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Boston Bruins right wing Shawn ThorntonThe Associated Press

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has upheld the 15-game suspension assessed to Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton for punching and injuring Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik earlier this month.

Thornton appealed the original decision handed down to him back on December 14. The hearing was heard in New York on December 20th by the commissioner.

"I find that there is clear and convincing evidence to support [NHL vice president of player safety Brendan] Shanahan's conclusion that a suspension of fifteen (15) games is appropriate," Bettman wrote in his ruling. He went on to say that Thornton's conduct was "improper, intentional and involved the use of excessive and unnecessary force".

During the hearing, the NHLPA agreed that Thornton's actions were "harmful" and "wrong" and resulted in "significant" injury to Orpik. However the union argued that the suspension should be less than 15 games, pointing out that Thornton was a first time offender who had played more than 500 games without ever being disciplined and that other players who had committed similar infractions were given shorter suspensions.

The NHLPA advocated that a suspension of 10 - 12 games would be more appropriate.

Earlier in the game, Orpik hit Boston's Loui Eriksson with his shoulder near the winger's head, sending him to the bench in a dazed state. He did not return and was subsequently diagnosed with a concussion.

In handing down the original suspension, Shanahan cited the two-minute penalty Thornton received for trying to fight Orpik as a sign of premeditation.

"Mr. Orpik never had a chance to fairly confront his opponent, much less an opportunity to defend himself," concluded Bettman. "Mr. Thornton's actions were clearly intentional–they were not accidental–and nobody could suggest otherwise."

"In fact, in light of all the circumstances relating to the underlying conduct, it is certainly possible to argue for a more severe punishment," added Bettman.

"I note that Mr. Thornton has a reputation for being a 'good actor' and a model NHL citizen, but that does not eliminate the need for him to be punished appropriately for his bad act in this case."

Thornton and the NHL Players' Association could still elect to appeal to a neutral arbitrator. Thornton has seven days to make that decision.

"We respect the process including the ability to attend the hearing with commissioner Bettman in support of Shawn", Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said Tuesday in a statement. "At this time, we will decline comment until the process is complete and Shawn has exhausted all rights available to him."

Buffalo Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta is the only player to use this appeals process under the current collective bargaining agreement, and no player has gone to the neutral arbitrator. Bettman upheld Kaleta's 10-game suspension for an illegal hit on Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Jack Johnson.

Under terms of the CBA, Thornton will forfeit US$84,615.45. He is eligible to return Jan. 11 when the Bruins face the San Jose Sharks.

Click here for Bettman's complete ruling

(Files from the Canadian Press were used in this report)