Shawn Thornton was drafted in the seventh round(190th overall) in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. His selection was a surprise long shot. As a kid growing up in Oshawa, Ontario he started hockey years after the other kids did. “I got cut from junior B,” once offered Thornton. “They said I wasn’t tough enough actually.” He worked his way up from juniors and pushed himself with an intensity matched by few. One of his teammates from his OHL days, Dave Duerden, best summed up ‘the baddest Bruin’.
“He was everything you could hope for as a teammate. He was willing to pay the price for everybody. Everything he’s gotten in his career he’s earned and it’s been uphill for him. He wasn’t going to give up an inch for any one of his teammates, and that’s the way it was right from the first day I met him.”
Thornton spent four years in the Toronto’s AHL affiliate, the St. John’s Maple Leafs. He averaged over three hundred penalty minutes each season. Shawn performed as a penalty killer, a defensemen, a fourth liner, and was occasionally known to throw down the gloves.
Shawn Thornton moved onto the Blackhaws organization. He spent five years going back and forth from the Chicago Blackhawks, and their AHL Norfolk Admirals affiliate. Thornton got his first opportunity in the NHL on October 10, 2002 against Columbus. He tallied his first point three days later. He scored his first NHL goal on the twenty-sixth of that month in a goal against the Carolina Hurricanes. He was also the first Admiral to accumulate over one thousand penalty minutes. He became a filler player. Blackhawks get hurt, and up he’d go. Primary players come back, and back to the AHL.
Thornton was frustrated. At one point, he seriously contemplated going back to Canada and becoming a police officer. (I think petty criminals all over the Ontario province are very thankful he decided to stay in hockey.) He ended up in the Anaheim Ducks franchise in the 2006-07 season. There he repeated his performance as a replacement player. He scored nine points, racked up eighty eight minutes of penalties and helped bring the Ducks into the playoffs. During the Duck’s Stanley Cup run, he played in fifteen games and helped the Ducks become Stanley Cup Champions. (Thornton is the only active Bruin with more than one Stanley Cup Championship to his name.)
On July 1st, 2007, Thornton signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins. Things began to change for Thornton. For the first time, he was getting full season play. No more bouncing up and down in the league. He had made it, and finished a very Cinderella-like story. (Well, except for that part of the glass slipper having a blade on the bottom of it, him eating the carriage, and probably knocking a few teeth out of Prince Charming.) His scoring improved, his plus/minus was going into the positives, and he was making a name for himself.
Yes, Thornton is an enforcer. He’s a physical player that makes things happen for his team. A co-worker called him a goon. I tore into him. I asked the co-worker if Thornton does anything else for the team. He didn’t have an answer. I got ‘snarky’. I asked him if a player is known for being good at something, is he pigeonholed into it for the rest of his career. On the Bruins, we have players that have bounced back and forth from the wings to the center and occasionally gone to the D.
Thornton played his first game as a Bruin on October 5, 2007 against the Dallas Stars. He scored his first Bruin goal against the Carolina Hurricanes on February 12, 2008. Even missing twenty games with a broken foot, Thornton was having a productive season. Seven points(one of them a game winning goal) and a presence that was making other teams take notice. The next few seasons only improved for Thornton. The Merlot line was born. Double digit point totals and a reputation for being a player that would drop the gloves to support his team. Thornton recorded the first ever Winter Classic fight on New Years, 2010 against the Flyers’ Daniel Carcillo inside Fenway Park.
Then came that magical year. Thornton was up to the challenge. Seventy nine games played. Ten g0als(two of the game winners) and ten assists. One hundred and forty one hits, and over one hundred and twenty penalty minutes. Thornton’s entry into the Stanley Cup Final Game 3 was considered the first “game changer” for the series. He racked up an assist in the Finals and made a lot of Canucks honest. The rest were smart enough to keep their heads down. On June 15th, 2011. The Bruins had their first Stanley Cup Championship in thirty nine years (and it had only been four for Thorny.)
This last season, Thornton still had good numbers for a fourth liner. Thirteen points, ninety one hits, and one hundred and fifty four penalty minutes. One of those points was probably Thornton’s best remembered goal against the Jets. The penalty shot goal. The first goal I ever shouted in outright surprise and excitement. Thanks for that memory #22.
Well, lockout forbid, we start this up in about two months. Thornton has added jiu-jitsu to his repertoire. Hell hath no fury, like Thornton’s scorn.