Former Peterborough Petes GM Jeff Twohey recruited a lot of great talent during his tenure with the venerable Ontario League squad, but one story sticks out in particular. Twohey was hanging out at an Oshawa, Ont., rink one night, waiting for the late game to start, when a player on a major midget team challenged the other team’s bench to fight him.
The kid found a dance partner in an overager who promptly beat the stuffing out of him. Twohey marveled out loud about the overager’s fighting prowess, to which the woman beside him said, “he’s never been beat.”
That woman was Shawn Thornton’s mom. Her son had been passed over by every Tier Two squad in the area, but once Twohey got a look, Thornton was taken in the next OHL draft to set out on a career that has netted him two Stanley Cups in the past five years and a special place in the hearts of Bruins fans.
He lives in Boston’s Irish-heavy Charlestown neighborhood, setting for the Ben Affleck bank robbery flick The Town. And right now, he’s exhibiting all the traits of a hockey folk hero.
A late round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1997, Thornton never suited up for the Buds and played in the minors until he was traded to Chicago for Marty Wilford in 2001 (where were you the day that blockbuster went down?). After a Cup win in Anaheim he shipped out to Boston as a free agent, but it wasn’t until 2008-09 that he would play a full season of NHL games. Since then, he has become a more rounded player and an integral part of the Bruins’ persona.
This sport has always lionized the hard workers and straight-talkers and Thornton certainly fits that mould. His PIM always come in multiples of his point totals, but his energy, leadership and physical play bring just as much to the table as his fists do now. Perhaps that’s why in a year where straight-up enforcers are becoming scarce, the Boston media is already clamoring for the Bs to offer Thornton, a pending unrestricted free agent this summer, a contract extension (and yeah, they love their fighters in Boston, but still…) before the team looks ungrateful towards its heavyweight.
But it’s not just the dirty work that Thornton gets props for. How about the penalty shot move he pulled against Winnipeg Tuesday night? Not something your garden-variety goon is likely to attempt in an NHL game.
Thornton also proved to be quick on his feet in an impromptu debate with a Vancouver hockey columnist when the issue of the latest Canucks/Bruins brouhaha came up on a Boston-area TV show. True, the journalist wasn’t prepared to exchange verbal blows with the right winger, but Thornton still knew his facts better than the scribe. I can only imagine how much the Bruins faithful loved that one.
Boston is easily one of the most polarizing teams in the NHL and lately opponents have had a difficult time beating them on the ice or in the alley, as the old saying goes. But with players such as Thornton on the team, all they can do right now is shut up. Maybe that’s why Bruins fans love him so much.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN’s associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.