By: Mike Sullivan | Follow me on Twitter @_MikeSullivan
From fights to big hits to penalty shot magic, Shawn Thornton defined his career as a fourth-line grinder who was idolized in Boston.
Donning the number 22, Shawn Thornton was originally drafted in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, 190th overall. However, Shawn never got to play a game with the Leafs. Instead, he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawk organization in the 2001-2002 season. Thornton would play one season with the Anaheim Ducks in 2006-2007, where he helped propel the Ducks to a Stanley Cup Championship. Following that season, Thornton signed a three-year $1.5 million contract with the Boston Bruins, where his legend would soar.
During his seven-year stint with the Boston Bruins, Thornton would find himself in a clear and very fit role, enforcer for the Black and Gold. Thornton would define his NHL lore with fights, chirps, big hits, and the occasional goal, which would always send the Garden into a frenzy.
The Ontario native would play 480 games in his seven-year tenure with the Boston Bruins. He would tally thirty-four goals and forty-two assists for seventy-six total points but remember. Producing offense was not his role nor his expectation. He did, however, accumulate 748 penalty minutes over his Boston career. That is more suited to who he was as a player.
In an age where the enforcer role is being held on by life support, Shawn Thornton was one of the last great enforcers of the NHL. In today’s National Hockey League, the role of an enforcer is quite limited and, in some cases, eliminated entirely. The game is trending toward more skill and speed-based competition. Less bashing faces in, hoping to result in a momentum shift.
Thornton would prove over and over again that he was willing to play the enforcer role and play it well. There are plenty of examples where a teammate was rocked by a violent body check, or a slimy slew-foot was executed on a Bruin, and Thornton would be the first guy to answer the bell.
In most cases, an off-season training for professional hockey players would consist of off-ice training, workouts, meal prep, and conditioning. Not Shawn Thornton. He would spend his off-seasons at The Ring Boxing Club in Boston, tuning up his fighting ability and perfecting that jab of his that wreaked havoc on opponent’s bodies.
Not only could Thornton fight, but he would agitate better than most in the league could dream of. I distinctly remember one instance in the 2014 playoffs. Yet another Boston-Montreal postseason showdown, P.K. Subban was skating by the Boston bench, and Thornton decided to spray water into Subban’s visor as he rushed by the bench. This caused P.K. to become a loose cannon and lose it on the refs while Thornton was caught snickering on the bench with his teammates. His ability to get under the opponent’s skin was unmatched.
It would, of course, be wrong of me not to mention his penalty shot goal against Ondrej Pavelec that shocked not only Boston fans but the NHL as a whole. A fourth-line grinder like himself is not supposed to score on a penalty shot. Let alone pull a nasty fake shot move showing off his silky mitts for the hometown crowd. It was just demoralizing for Ondrej Pavelec. From that moment, Thornton’s legacy only grew bigger.
At the end of the 2013-2014 season, Thornton signed with the Florida Panthers, playing three seasons before hanging up the skates and calling it a playing career. He joined the Florida Panthers’ front office as the Vice President of Business Operations. Smart move by Florida. Try to be slick with Shawn, and he’ll take matters into his own hands.
Shawn Thornton was integral to the Bruins’ success in the early 2010s. He was a foundational piece of the famous “Merlot Line” of Paille, himself, and Campbell. He helped create a no-nonsense culture in Boston and brought the character to a team ready to compete for the Stanley Cup. In 2011, Thornton won the second Stanley Cup of his career and forever cemented himself in Boston Bruins lore.
Twenty-two days ladies and gentlemen.