Thornton, Rinaldo and Neal the latest to embarrass the NHL with their antics

Ken Campbell
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There weren’t too many people happy with the lunacy they saw in Boston Saturday night. You know something’s really bad when even the fighting zealots wag their fingers, all the while going through their predictable, ‘You-hate-to-see-that-happen-to-anybody” routine.

But one guy who had to be thrilled with Shawn Thornton’s cowardly, gutless and completely dishonorable attack on Brooks Orpik had to be Zac Rinaldo of the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, everybody won’t be talking about his equally cowardly, gutless and dishonorable attack on Antoine Roussel of the Dallas Stars earlier in the day. Rinaldo had four seconds of ice time on Saturday, which, given his skill level, is exactly four seconds more than he deserves.

But he made the most of it, you bet. In that time span he left the bench, chased down Roussel and laid a one-sided pummelling on the Dallas Stars forward, presumably because Roussel taunted the crowd after scoring a goal on a penalty shot against Chicago Tuesday night. But you know the NHL. If anyone deserves to be beaten up, it’s a guy who taunts the crowd.

Rinaldo’s mugging only overshadowed a hat trick by Tyler Seguin in the same game, but as it turns out the boys were just getting warmed up in their pursuit of ignominy. Not to be outdone, Thornton took it one step further by going after Orpik not once, but twice, after Orpik lay what looked like a clean hit that concussed Loui Eriksson of the Bruins. With Orpik already down on the ice, Thornton, a guy who’s supposed to embody all the honor we hear about with these fighters, then drilled Orpik in the head twice, leading to him being taken off the ice on a stretcher. And just for good measure, James Neal of the Penguins kneed Brad Marchand in the head just seconds before that.

The NHL and its many fighting and violence zealots must be so, so proud. Over the next few days, you’re going to hear from them that Shawn Thornton is one of the good guys. They’ll talk about how much character he has and how he visits sick kids in the hospital and what a great team guy he is and how out of character this attack was.

All of which may be true, but Shawn Thornton proved that on the ice, he’s nothing but a bully and a punk and someone who deserves to have the privilege of playing hockey taken away from him for a long, long time. Kudos to him for coming out and answering for his actions after the game and taking responsibility for them, but that was the only thing he did all night that had even a shred of integrity. What Thornton did was no different than what almost killed Steve Moore and forever changed the career of Todd Bertuzzi more than nine years ago. In fact, Brooks Oprik should be saying, “There but by the grace of God go I,” or something like that right now because it could have been much, much worse for him. Initial reports had him conscious and alert at a Boston hospital, which means those who enjoy this kind of nonsense have just dodged another bullet.

(Thornton received a match penalty, which carries an indefinite suspension, and has an in-person hearing with the NHL. Wouldn’t you just love to see the NHL throw him out for 25 games then see if Thornton has the gall to appeal it?)

Those who defend fighting in the NHL will tell you this had nothing to do with fighting. And that’s a bunch of unadulterated bunk. It had everything to do with fighting. Why did Thornton attack Orpik in the first place? Because Orpik refused to fight him, that’s why. So Thornton took it upon himself to force Orpik into a fight. And that has nothing to do with fighting? Who are these people trying to kid?

Neal was certainly no better with his accidental-on-purpose knee to Marchand’s head. If Neal gets suspended for a good number of games and fails to make enough of an impression on Steve Yzerman and others picking the Canadian Olympic team, then he has nobody to blame but himself. And even if he’s good enough to play, do you really want a guy on your Olympic team who has that little on-ice self discipline?

All of this comes one night after Adam Erne of the Quebec Remparts drilled Jonathan Drouin into the boards in a Quebec League game, giving Drouin a concussion that could keep him out of the World Junior Championship. (Drouin reportedly suffered a “mild” concussion, but there is no such thing. You can never tell when the player will return from a concussion.) The QMJHL ruled Erne would not be suspended and Erne accused Drouin of diving into the boards. Yup, a guy who could be captain of the World Junior team is going to put that all at risk by “diving” into the boards and giving himself a “mild” concussion just to draw a penalty.

And so it goes with this game that is so great in spite of some of those who play and run it. More bloodshed, more stretchers and more mayhem and legions who continue to defend the insanity.

Carry on, then.