Shawn Thornton didn't do much on Saturday night that could be deemed admirable. His punches to a prone Brooks Orpik were disgusting and completely over the line, and he deserves the lengthy suspension the recently-announced in-person hearing would suggest he'll be getting.
Shawn Thornton will have an in-person hearing for violating Rule 46.2 - Aggressor. Date & time TBA.
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) December 8, 2013
You can at least give the Bruins' enforcer credit for facing the music, however.
A lot of players might have avoided speaking after an incident like this one, at least until the morning. But Thornton didn't, addressing the media, apologizing, and answering questions after the game:
CSNNE has the same video from the other angle, and you can see that Thornton is near tears as he speaks.
Thornton, asked if he was just out to protect his teammates:
"It's always my job, I guess, to defend my teammates, but I've prided myself for a long time to stay within the lines. It's hard for me to talk about it right now. I can't say I'm sorry enough. I'm sure I'll be criticized for saying it. It's true. I hope he's doing all right."
That's something, and kudos to Thornton for refusing to take the bait on a question where he might have been tempted to say an unkind word about the Penguins' antics, defend his role, or really do anything beyond apologize profusely.
It doesn't exculpate Thornton, however. The NHL's mention of the aggressor rule makes it perfectly clear what he did, and how serious they consider it.
Since it's a rarely-cited rule, here's a refresher course on the important section from the league rulebook:
The aggressor in an altercation shall be the player who continues to throw punches in an attempt to inflict punishment on his opponent who is in a defenseless position or who is an unwilling combatant.
A player must be deemed the aggressor when he has clearly won the fight but he continues throwing and landing punches in a further attempt to inflict punishment and/or injury on his opponent who is no longer in a position to defend himself.
Interesting that this didn't come up while the league was trying to find a way to suspend Ray Emery for making a combatant out of the unwilling Braden Holtby. Maybe it's because Holtby engaged in the end. Or maybe they just remembered this rule existed.
Anyway, this is a pretty apt description of exactly what Thornton did, and it sounds like he won't be arguing when the league throws the book at him for it.
The NHL also announced that James Neal would be having a phone hearing for his knee to Brad Marchand, which means, unlike Thornton, he's likely to get off easier than he should.
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