That a player “plays his game” is perhaps one of the most common of all hockey cliches, right around the emergent “it’s a man’s game,” and yet Shawn Thornton vowed to do just that when he returned to the Boston Bruins line-up as his team faced the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.
The Bruins defeated the Sharks by a final score of 1-0, handing San Jose a rare home loss. Thornton wasn’t much of a factor, but he was back on the ice and ready to go after serving a 15-game suspension for the Brooks Orpik incident.
As bad as it looked when Thornton took out the Pittsburgh Penguin in December, the Bruin insists that he didn’t lose control.
“It was an emotional game, but I wasn’t out of control when I was doing what I was doing,” he said.
To hear Thornton tell it, the incident in which he slew-footed Orpik to the ice and punched him was a reaction to the Penguin’s hit on Loui Eriksson. Orpik left the contest on a stretcher.
“The outcome, as much as I didn’t want to see that outcome, it also could have been a lot worse,” said Thornton. “I could have kept swinging. I could have — if I’d snapped — I could have probably done a lot of damage.”
This is true. Thornton could’ve done a lot of damage.
“I didn’t snap. I wasn’t out of control. I kept my glove on for a reason. I pulled him down. I didn’t let his head hit the ice. Which probably, again, doesn’t make much sense if you’re going to throw two punches at somebody. But I didn’t,” Thornton said.
And that also is true. I have it on good authority that if you slow the replay down enough you can see Thornton set out a little pillow for Orpik, just in case.
It’s been well-documented that Thornton is one of the league’s many enforcers to adhere to a loosely-defined Code of Honour. The job of enforcers and fighters in the National Hockey League is to do their jobs, which usually involves sending messages with fists and shoves and whatnot. Injuries happen, but intending to injure someone is not part of the Code.
“The intent was not to injure Brooksie at all,” Thornton said. “It was more to send a message, to do my job. We can’t be pushed around. I crossed the line. I know I did. I shouldn’t have hit somebody when he was down. I messed up there. I paid dearly for it. I’ve said it 100 times: There’s guys in this league I can’t stand I’ve never tried to injure. That’s not the type of guy I am.”
Once more, this is true. In Thornton’s own words, he’s probably “a little too honourable.”
Or, “If you’re one of those guys that suckers someone when they’re down or you go after somebody that doesn’t deserve it or isn’t in the same category as you, that will come back and bite you at some point, too.”
Given that Thornton didn’t “snap” and was in full control of his actions, does he become “one of those guys?” Or are things different when you’re “a little too honourable?”