Settling the Debate: Thornton Hit Worse Than Neal Knee

James Neal MAR 24 Penguins at Flyers

James Neal was suspended 5 games for kneeing Brad Marchand in the head. (Icon SMI)

The Shawn Thornton hit was much worse than the James Neal knee to Brad Marchand’s head. There isn’t a debate here people. Just because you love to bash the Pittsburgh Penguins doesn’t mean Neal’s actions were more violent. Thornton mugged and assaulted a defenseless Brooks Orpik. The brutal actions of Thornton found Orpik unconscious, in a neck brace, and in a hospital.

Neal definitely got caught in a lie and didn’t properly handle the situation following the game. Just because Neal didn’t own up to his cheap shot, it doesn’t mean his actions were worse than Thornton’s transgressions. They weren’t even close in comparison.

No one knows how hard Neal hit Marchand in the head. Neal had less than a second to react after Marchand fell to the ice. I am not in any way condoning or justifying Neal’s actions, but he had a split second to make a decision. In the end, Marchand wasn’t taken off on a stretcher and returned to play not long after the incident. As far as I know Marchand didn’t experience a concussion.

If Orpik wasn’t wheeled off the ice on a stretcher, we never would’ve heard an apology from Thornton. I commend Thornton for apologizing in his post-game interview, but he still lied.

“It was not my intention. I feel awful,” said Thornton.

On the contrary, the assault was premeditated and definitely Thornton’s intention in that moment. There was plenty of time for Thornton to think as he skated down the ice towards Orpik. Thornton slew-footed Orpik, connected with a sucker punch in succession with an elbow, and finished Orpik off with one final blow to the head. That’s four cheap shots to Neal’s one.

As I’ve maintained throughout the Neal/Thornton debate, the end result of dirty plays such as these are the most important factor. If Neal’s knee would’ve knocked Marchand out cold, and resulted in Marchand on a stretcher, then Neal would be more at fault. If two bullies with the same violent intent punched the same victim, and only one of them knocked the victim unconscious, the bully who knocked the victim unconscious would be viewed as the worst offender.

Shawn Thornton - Bruins

Shawn Thornton will have an in-person hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety on Friday concerning his attack on Brooks Orpik. (Icon SMI)

As much as the NHL and the Department of Player Safety want to sometimes pretend that all illegal offenses carry the same weight whether a victim was injured or not, that is not the case. A player performing an illegal act that injures a victim will earn more severe punishment than a player who performs an illegal act that does not injure a victim.

Anyone who’s ever played hockey knows that anytime you fight or body-check an opponent, your intent is to injure or inflict pain. No one wants to admit it, but it’s the truth. The only way to completely know a player’s intent is if that player admits he or she wanted to injure someone. That’s rarely heard from the mouths of NHL players, and that’s why the end result matters more than the illegal act itself.

Some Boston Bruinsfans want to blame the Thornton incident on Orpik. Please show some objectivity and admit the truth. Orpik wasn’t required to drop the gloves. If a player in Orpik’s case doesn’t want to fight, then a Bruins’ player should try to line up Orpik for a bone crushing check like the one Orpik laid on Loui Eriksson.

In terms of suspending both players, the NHL got this correct. Thornton deserves at least 10 games and deserves more games than Neal. Thornton’s actions were more severe and he needs to pay the price by sitting out-at a minimum-twice as many games as Neal.


Justin Glock
Justin Glock has covered the Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers since 2011. As a lead writer, his Penguins knowledge traces back over two decades. For any requests, please feel free to contact Justin via email: JGlock10@gmail.com.
Justin Glock
Today should be #Pens Team Mumps Testing day. Bring in the entire squad. You're allowed to catch it out in front. - 9 hours ago
Justin Glock

17 Comments

  1. Eriksson never had possession of the puck and now has another concussion.
    Marchand was kneed in the head what did the Pens think was going to happen nothing?
    They are just asking for trouble.
    Did Deryk Engelland just get 5 games for a headshot on Justin Abdelkader yep.
    Slow down already get back to playing hockey Pittsburgh.

  2. Another ridiculous display of penguins homerism from Justin Glock. Complete with mudslinging of Thornton’s character (claiming he wasn’t honest in his apology), ignorance of hockey (claiming body checks are intended to cause injury), and general idiocy (thinking the outcome of a play is more important than the act itself).

    What a buffoon.

  3. The fact that you think a body check’s goal is to injure another player is actually disgusting. It honestly makes me wonder if you’ve ever played hockey at a competitive level. To the contrary, everybody who has played competitively knows that the end goal of a check is to seperate the opposition from the puck. Sometimes people do go for the big hit in an attempt to set a tone out on the ice, but never to injure. Do you think that any of this stuff would ever fly when gretzky was in the ice? The botton line is that orpik took a borderline cheap shot on Erikkson and refused to answer the bell after, yet still felt free to throw slashes (along with Letang) behind the play. Neal had plenty of time to change his path on Marchand but he blatantly extended his knee to make contact with the head, a blatant intent to injure. On the other hand, punches to the head have become somewhat commonplace in the NHL since its origins if you’ve ever watched it. Therefore it can be pretty beleivable when Shawn Thornton threw two gloved punches to the head that is intent wasn’t to concuss another player. If he wanted to injure him, I’m sure he would have removed his gloves like he normally does when he drops them with some of the NHL’s toughest. Guys like Thornton don’t have the prettiest role on the ice, but don’t mistake that for the role having a lack of ethics. These guys know that sonetimes it’s just not a guys night and he doesn’t want to fight, in fact theres a few documentaries out there that dig into this. thornton’s actions clearly crossed the line and he deserves a lengthy suspension, but please don’t try to convince us that two gloved punches display more of an intent to injure than blatant knee to the head.

    • Paul,
      Thank you for that comment. As soon as I read the comment about trying to hurt with a body check, I also realized the writer had never actually played the game.
      I’ve played for over 40 years at various levels and the majority of hits I’ve made were to impede the progress or separate a skater from a puck. Yes, I have hit to hurt occasionally (not proud to say that) but very rarely. Most hits are with a different intent.

    • Paul,

      You can look up my name 2001 & 2002. Playing hockey or not has nothing to do with it. There are great minds around the game who have not played. I’m not hear to argue who played. It’s sports it can be debated in a civil manner. I said that I was considering a hit and separation different. But you say it’s never anyone’s intent to injure when body checking someone but then you call Orpik’s hit cheap? That’s probably bc you feel he was trying to injure Eriksson. Whether you feel Eriksson had the puck long enough or didn’t, the actual contact to Eriksson made by Orpik was not dirty. Clean contact I’ve never heard of any opponent punching someone and not trying to injure them. So as much as you feel that I went over board on the hitting point that you disagreed with, you can’t actually believe Thornton didn’t intend to injure Orpik. But thank you for reading. Happy Holidays.

  4. Regarding Marchand, if Orpik’s hit on Loui needed Thorton’s intervention, why no retaliation on Neal? Boston players probably dislike Marchand as much as every other player in the NHL. I believe “The Code” states somebody should have dropped gloves on Neal even if it was Rask.

    Regarding all 4 incidents (Orpik’s hit, Neal’s hit, Duper’s slashing, Thornton’s mugging), re-watch all 4 and think about where the puck is. In all but one is the puck in play near the alleged offense. Thorton essentially left the bench and skated towards the victim, that’s 10 games right there, throw in more for the mugging.

  5. Terrible article:

    “Anyone who’s ever played hockey knows that anytime you fight or body-check an opponent, your intent is to injure or inflict pain”

    That is complete BS. Anybody who has played contact sports would agree that you are never trying to injure the other guy. By nature, you are trying to make big contact and knock a guy off his feet or whatever, but never injure. Contact sports is a two way street, so running around trying to injure people only results in people trying to injure you right back — so, no, people do not go around trying to injure other players. (Unless it is football and you are diving head first into peoples’ knees)

    • So you try to hit someone in hockey as lightly as possible?

      • Did you ever play at any level that allowed full contact?
        You are hitting to control the play, not to hurt people. Its pretty easy to injure if that is your intent.
        Your goal is to hit them hard enough to control the play. Thats it. Professional athletes have incredible control over their bodies and the force they put into play. They know exactly what X hit will do to someone, barring awful luck or poor judgement.

        • Probably than a higher level than you ever did but that’s irrelevant. Yes I’ve heard of separating a man with the puck but that doesn’t always constitute a hit. If you attempt to literally hit someone hard, you can hurt them or inflict a little bit of pain. With your point why not take hitting out of the game? If you did they’d still make contact with one another and still take the body. You don’t know if you’re going to knock another player out cold if you check them clean.

      • Nope, I try to hit him hard, and if it inflicts “pain” then fine, but you never go in hoping you injure somebody – and I think most people who play contact sports probably define pain a little differently than people who don’t. And when somebody you hit gets hurt, you don’t start celebrating.

        It’s called sportsmanship.

        Hitting hard is part of the game, hitting to injure is just being an A$$HOLE

        • “Nope, I try to hit him hard, and if it inflicts “pain” then fine, but you never go in hoping you injure somebody”

          You can say this for yourself, but not the masses. There are players that just want to inflict pain and injure their opponents. They have zero respect for you and for the game. You cannot 100% deny that there are players like that.

          I most certainly do not condone this type of play, but it occurs in every sport.

  6. He covers the Penguins. Of course he would think that. His whole article is biased not to mention all the false dichotomy.

    • How is the Thornton hit not worse than Neal’s? Go ahead and elaborate. If you look at my last article, I completely call Neal out for being cheap and dirty, and said that he knee’d Marchand on purpose even when Neal denied it after the game.

  7. That’s just stupid.
    Now just because Marchand didn’t died from it, it is valid to knee him on the head?
    As Thornton, Neal’s action was totally intentional. It doesn’t matter who left the game on a stretcher, all free stupid agression like that should be punished.

  8. Thugs vs Cheap shot artists in an ugly display.
    I support neither team, and am wholeheartedly disgusted by the incident.
    If Thornton had pounded Neal instead of Orpik this wouldn’t be as big of news.
    The fact is though, that was the third play of the night the the Penguins did something over the line, before the normally dirty Bruins responded. (And Pascal Dupuis’ slash is worthy of mention)

    Neal deserved 6-8 games, Thornton around 10, but Neal, a repeat offender, gets off easy since he is a star, whereas Thornton will be crucified on his first offense.
    (Defending the Bruins.. I feel sick)

    • First offense or not, Thornton should be crucified. What he did qualifies as criminal assault. I don’t know what it will take to get it through to the players. These suspensions are clearly not working. Increase the suspension length and lets see what happens. Give Neal 20 games, give Thornton the rest of the season. Maybe then, players will respect the game and each other. The NHLPA of course would have none of this.

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