Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Deciphering the hockey code: good luck with that.
The notion of an unwritten code implies a standard of personal conduct based on honour. There was nothing honourable about what Shawn Thornton of the Bruins did to Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik this past Saturday in Boston.
And spare me the claptrap about mitigating circumstances, like Orpik's refusal to fight Thornton earlier in the game or Pittsburgh's James Neal fanning the flames by kneeing Boston's Brad Marchand in the head. Neal was penalized at the time of the play and subsequently suspended for five games without pay, meaning he'll forfeit $128,000 and change from his $5million annual salary. I don't care how much money you make - 128k is a hit for anyone. You could argue that Neal deserved a stiffer suspension and heftier fine and you might be right, but it's not relevant to the Thornton-Orpik scenario.
Which brings us back to "the code". According to hockey's old guard, Orpik owed it to the code to drop his gloves and fight when challenged by Thornton after Orpik leveled Boston's Loui Eriksson with a devastating bodycheck. Where that argument goes off the rails is that there was no penalty on the hit. I understand the part of the code that says you have to answer for cheap shots, but since when does the code dictate that you have to entertain the local cementhead's dance invitation because you laid out his teammate with a clean hit? Thornton's post-whistle, blindside attack on Orpik is inexcusable under any circumstances, and the suggestion that Orpik brought it on himself because he violated the code simply doesn't hold up - unless the code has been rewritten to hold players responsible for hard but clean bodychecks, which would suggest to me that honour is no longer part of the equation.
There's another time-honoured element of hockey - more axiom than code - that preaches "keep your head up." The Orpik hit marked the second time in six weeks that Loui Eriksson paid the price for being caught unaware of his surroundings on the ice. I know what you're saying: "That's blaming the victim!" Indeed. Not unlike saying it's Brooks Orpik's fault that he was criminally assaulted by Scott Thornton.
I'll leave the last word to Don James, who said it best on Twitter: