Goalies walk a fine line when they swing their sticks in an attempt to slash opposing players – whether it be in front of their nets or as they skate by their crease. Often players will retaliate causing a dust up between those on the ice and creating more animosity in a game that already carries a fair amount of that from the second the puck hits the ice.
That was the case in Carolina on Thursday night when the San Jose Sharks were in town to take on the Hurricanes.
Now, so often kids are taught to play until the whistle. Go for the puck. Dig it out and do whatever you can until you hear that whistle. Well, on Thursday night Sharks’ veteran forward Joe Thornton did just that – played until the whistle sounded.
Big Joe Stirring the Pot
Anyone who has watched Thornton over his career knows that the big-bodied vet doesn’t mind getting into the grimy areas. Heck, he had a tuft of hair pulled out of his beard in a fight with former Maple Leafs’ forward Nazem Kadri at one point in his career.
Still, Thornton is known for his ability to make plays in the offensive zone and drive other teams nuts – even if he’s no longer the quickest guy on the ice.
Well, on Thursday he did just that. Not only did he notch his 10th assist of the season on the Sharks first goal of the game, but the grizzled vet also decided to get involved in the extra curricular activities going on in the game.
At the 12:50 mark of the second period, Hurricanes’ goaltender Petr Mrazek made a stop and covered up the puck with his glove. As we discussed, Thornton played right up until the whistle and tried digging the puck out as he drove past the net.
Now, anyone that has watched the game of hockey knows that a play like that will draw the attention of the defending players. Instead, Mrazek took things into his own hands and swung his stick barely making contact with Thornton’s shin pads. The action alone caused Thornton’s wires to cross and the 40-year-old threw a jab to the throat area of the Hurricanes’ goaltender, who collapsed to the ice.
Now, I’m not here to talk about the fight that ensued. Instead, I want to talk about the actual event and whether any fines might come from the on-ice incident.
Who’s Right? Who’s Wrong?
It’s simple, isn’t it? Mrazek shouldn’t have swung his stick and Thornton shouldn’t have punched him in the throat. But there are far too many other factors involved the ultimately led to the play.
Had Mrazek just left the situation alone after Thornton tried digging the puck out of his glove, surely his players would’ve dealt with the issue and had some choice words for Thornton – at least you’d hope that would be the case.
Had he not swung his stick, chances are Thornton wouldn’t have turned in his direction looking to respond. Not only that, but when he did look back at Thornton, Mrazek decided to get to his feet and skate directly at Thornton ultimately leading to Thornton’s actions.
Again, neither reaction is condoned in any way. But there were a number of ways to avoid the situation altogether. Now, Thornton’s punch did look like a hard hit. In fact, how many of us would’ve been expecting it, let alone be able to take it and stay on our feet.
However, some have suggested that Mrazek embellished the fall making it look far worse that it should’ve been. I’ll let you all judge for yourselves. Regardless, penalties were handed out following the scrum that ensued.
The Call on the Ice Stands
Mrazek was handed two minutes for slashing on the play and Thornton was given two minutes for slashing and two minutes for roughing – giving the Hurricanes a man advantage. For me, I think the referees got it right on the ice.
And while some might argue that Mrazek could’ve got another two for embellishment, I’m sure the shot from Thornton was punishment enough for the Hurricanes goaltender. Either way, while it might’ve looked like a vicious shot, Thornton felt like it was a hockey play.
“Just a hockey play,” said the 40-year-old forward following the team’s 3-2 shootout loss. “I think we were both just having fun and just, boys being boys. A little bit of excitement.”
He was asked if he was surprised that Mrazek went down easily and responded “not really,” according to Curtis Pashelka of the Bay Area News Group.
More Discipline to Come?
It’s doubtful that it will go any further than the penalties handed out on the ice. I’m sure both coaches will discuss the incident with their respective players, but aside from that it seems to be something that will be left alone with both teams moving on to their next games.
While there’s a discussion to be had regarding the area of the head that Thornton punched, there is also a discussion to be had regarding Mrazek’s slight embellishment of the fall as well.
While a first-time offender of the embellishment rule will get a warning letter, rather than a fine, it should be noted that a minor penalty for embellishment doesn’t have to be handed out for the player to receive supplemental discipline from an on-ice incident.
That all said, if it’s deemed that the calls on the ice were worthy of the plays themselves, neither player should be getting a call from either NHL Hockey Ops or the Department of Player Safety regarding Thursday’s game. While there likely won’t be any fines stemming from the going-ons of the game, one thing is for sure, Mrazek will think twice before he steps up to Thornton next time around.
Tape2Tape is a column looking at some of the biggest stories from around the world of hockey. Discussing different topics, it focuses on delivering some opinion to hockey’s biggest fans. Whether you agree or disagree, we would love to hear your thoughts.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.