Since he entered the National Hockey League Shawn Thornton has always been one of the best respected enforcers in the league, watching the backs of his team-mates with famed steel in Boston, Chicago, and Anaheim.

Last month in a heated game between the Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins Thornton over stepped the mark for the first time in his career, taking Penguins Forward Brooks Orpik to the ground before delivering two knockout punches.

The NHL took swift exception to Thornton’s actions and banned the ageing enforcer for 15 games. The Bruins and Thornton appealed the suspension but it was quickly shot down, leading the NHL to come out and say the sentence was only as short as 15 games because of his impeccable prior record.

Orpik was taken out of the Penguins team with concussion but swiftly returned following the suspension.

The game between the Bruins and Penguins had been fraught throughout, with both teams getting in cheap shots and throwing huge hits on each other.

The game boiled over after James Neal seemingly stuck a knee out to catch Bruins Winger Brad Marchand, who was already on the ice and a scuffle ensued that led to Thornton attacking Orpik.

After the game Thornton said he was sorry for what he did saying.

He said: "Obviously, I made a mistake. I’m aware of it. I’ve been told that I’ll be having a hearing and it’s hard for me to say much more other than that was not my intention. I feel awful and felt sick all game,"

The 37-year-old Boston native added: "That’s always my job, I guess, to defend my teammates, but I’ve prided myself for a long time to stay within the lines.”

Fighting in the NHL has been a hot topic recently and the debate has shifted from the issue being about changing the game to one of player safety, the NHL are constantly reviewing player safety fighting is becoming one of the most divisive parts of the game.

The Orpik incident raises the question what next for enforcers. Thornton was vilified across the league despite this being the only blemish in a faultless career discipline wise, the suspension means enforcers now have to watch their back for fear of heavy suspension whilst players like James Neal can pick their spots and come off scot free.

Enforcers can no longer go out and intimidate opponents into an honest fight with someone who’s perhaps been throwing his weight around for the opposition, primarily because they won't drop the gloves and the league will throw the book at them.

Whatever you think about this particular suspension length the implications to enforcers around the league will have a big knock-on effect and change one of the most unique elements of the game.

Bruins fans wait with bated breath for Thronton's and the hard-man could be a different player entirely following the lay off.

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