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Bylsma: Thornton suspension 'strong message'

Dave Molinari 8 years ago

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma believes the 15-game suspension issued to Boston enforcer Shawn Thornton today sends “a pretty strong message” and could deter attacks like the one Thornton made on Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik a week ago.

The suspension came from Brendan Shanahan, who handles supplemental discipline for the NHL.

“He made a ruling that I think says volumes about getting that kind of play out of the game,” Bylsma said.

Bylsma also described Thornton as “a pretty honest hockey player who made a mistake.”

Penguins general manager Ray Shero was a bit more reserved about the impact he expects the suspension to have on Thornton’s peers.

“Whether that’s going to serve as a deterrent, the 15-game suspension, remains to be seen,” he said. “I certainly hope so. We don’t see these types of plays very often, luckily.”

Thornton was punished for going after Orpik at 11:06 of the first period in what became a 3-2 Boston victory at TD Garden. He kicked Orpik’s feet out from under him, then punched his head twice while it was on the ice.

Orpik was rendered unconscious, according to the Penguins, and diagnosed with a concussion. Team official have said he has no recollection of anything that happened after the national anthem, which had occurred nearly a half-hour earlier.

Orpik has not played or spoken with reporters since the incident. He went on the ice briefly Friday and did what Shero called some “light” off-ice work Saturday, but Bylsma stressed that Orpik’s skating should not be taken as evidence that he is making significant progress toward a recovery.

“It wasn’t because he lacked symptoms or was progressing,” Bylsma said. “It doesn’t mean he’s symptom-free.”

Thornton was assessed a match penalty at the time of the incident and was suspended immediately, pending a hearing with Shanahan. That was held Friday.

He will lose $84,615.45 in salary while suspended, and reportedly has not decided whether to appeal the ruling.

The attack apparently stemmed from Orpik’s refusal to fight Thornton after delivering a ferocious hit on the first shift of the game that knocked Bruins winger Loui (cq) Eriksson out of the game with a concussion.

Orpik was not penalized for the check and Shanahan did not pursue the matter in subsequent days.

“(Thornton’s attack) cannot be described as a hockey play that went bad,” Shanahan said in an explanatory video that accompanied his ruling. “Nor do we consider this a spontaneous reaction to an incident that just occurred.”

Rather, he said, it was viewed as “an act of retribution” for the hit on Eriksson nearly 11 minutes of playing time earlier.

Shero made it clear he, like Bylsma, believes Thornton’s actions were out of character.

“I don’t think what happened is what he intended to happen,” Shero said. “I don’t believe that. But those were the consequences and he has to live with what the league says in appropriate, in terms of a suspension.”

Orpik was not available for comment. Precisely how his teammates feel about Thornton’s punishment wasn’t immediately clear, because team officials said none would be available to discuss the ruling until after their game against Detroit tonight at Joe Jouis Arena.

Following Detroit’s game-day skate at Joe Louis Arena – and before Thornton’s punishment was announced – Red Wings coach Mike Babcock offered something of a mixed message on the situation.

His team rarely fights, and Babcock suggested players shouldn’t be compelled to do so simply because they deliver a big hit.

“It’s no advantage to us – it’s actually an advantage to the other team – to get off focus, to get in scrums, to be scrapping after the whistle,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, however, he spoke highly of Thornton and the way he goes about his job as an enforcer.

“Thornton is a good, good man who has done good things in the league, who competes hard for his teammates,” Babcock said. “And something went bad.”

This is the first time Thornton has been fined or suspended during his 11-season career.

Detroit winger Daniel Alfredsson, a longtime captain in Ottawa, said players such as Orpik should “not at all” be obliged to fight after delivering a big check.

He acknowledged the “old-school” mindset that players should be willing to fight in those situations, but noted that on-ice officials are responsible for punishing rules violations.

“There are referees who handle (possible infractions),” Alfredsson said. “If you hit and it’s illegal, you go to the penalty box and feel shame and that should be it.”

Thornton wasn’t the only player suspended in the wake of last Saturday’s game.

Penguins right winger James Neal was ordered to sit out five games – the one against the Red Wings was No. 3 – after driving his knee into the head of Bruins winger Brad Marchand while he was off his feet a few seconds before Thornton attacked Orpik.