Once again fighting seems to be at the forefront of the conversation after Shawn Thornton knocked out Brooks Orpik with a sucker punch. Now before I go any further I am not saying that what Thornton did was right, he was in the wrong but the Pittsburgh Penguins are not entirely blameless in this situation. In what I’ve read about the situation people are saying that Thornton snapped because he got a penalty for roughing when Orpik refused to fight him. I don’t think that is the case. I think it has more to do with the knee James Neal took to Brad Marchand‘s head in one of the dirtiest plays I had ever seen. Marchand was on the ground after being tripped by Sidney Crosby (no penalty was called for that trip but that’s a whole other can of worms) when Neal skated over and aimed his knee at Marchand’s head. That would be enough to get anyone’s blood going and since Orpik had had a hard hit on Loui Eriksson, who was fresh off a concussion and is now back on the injured reserve because of said hit, and refused to fight Thornton earlier, Thornton decided someone needed to pay and that would be Orpik.
A lot of the criticism for fighting in hockey comes from the fact that the players should trust the officials to police the game for them instead of them policing themselves. However the officials aren’t always perfect and there are some things that are wrong that the officials can’t call. Let’s look at the Eriksson hit. It may have been a clean hit but Eriksson had just come back from a concussion and was injured on the play. The official can’t penalize a guy if they get hurt on a clean hit but it is common courtesy to not hammer the guy who just got back from a concussion. When you do something like that you have to answer the bell with a guy like Thornton and when you don’t and your team is as dirty as the Penguins something like what Thornton did is going to happen. In my opinion the Penguins are the dirtiest team in the league (Matt Cooke had to leave to clean up his act) and this was bound to happen to them eventually.
I believe that the Thornton incident is an argument for fighting in hockey. Had Orpik fought Thornton when he was challenged the sucker punch wouldn’t have happened. If they had fought Orpik would have paid his price for injuring Eriksson and when emotions flared on the Neal knee Thornton’s anger would not have been focused on Orpik. If fighting is taken out of hockey I believe that we will see a lot more incidents like this one. People underestimate just how much of a role fighting takes in making the game safer when it is done for the right reasons.
What do you think? Is there a team dirtier than the Penguins? What does this incident say about fighting in hockey? Share your thoughts in the comment box below, on facebook, or on twitter.