Scott Thornton always wanted to win a big shiny trophy while skating in Toronto. That happened Sunday, just not quite the way he envisioned.
Thornton, who played 17 seasons in the NHL with six teams, was named the winner of the fourth season of Battle of the Blades, a television show that pairs former NHL players with top female figure skaters in a skating competition.
Taken by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the third pick of the 1991 NHL Draft, the Stanley Cup was the trophy he had hoped he'd win in Toronto. But after seven weeks on the show, he and partner Amanda Evora edged Jason Strudwick and partner Violetta Afanasieva for the title.
"This wasn’t anything that was on my radar before the show was created," Thornton told NHL.com. "The opportunity came and I thought it was a fantastic chance to have a lot of fun, try a new sport, and raise some money and awareness for charity."
The charity aspect of the show is what really drew in Thornton. He said watching Bryan Berard skate to raise money for the Do It For Daron Foundation, started by former NHL player Luke Richardson and named for his daughter Daron to raise money for youth mental health. is what inspired him to get involved.
"I watched prior seasons and what really got me kind of hooked on the show was when Bryan Berard skated for the Do It for Daron Foundation," Thornton said. "I viewed the show in a different light. It became less about the skating and more about the charities and the causes. When I had the opportunity I jumped all over it."
In addition to the championship trophy, Thornton helped raise $100,000 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Society.
"My mother-in-law is currently in treatment for breast cancer, so that was a no-brainer, that's what I wanted to do," Thornton said. "Amanda had an opportunity to do whatever she wanted [for charity] as well, and she was kind enough to jump on board with me and support that cause as well."
Thornton played 991 games with the Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings between 1990 and 2008. That's a lot of miles in ice skates; however, it didn't take him long to realize that figure skating is a lot more different than just wearing blades with toe picks on them.
"It was extremely difficult," Thornton said. "It was harder than I thought. I didn't fully respect that it was that much of a different discipline. I thought skating was skating … we're just going to skate and I'll figure it out. It was pretty dramatically different. Lot of motor patterns I've had my whole like that I had to correct. That process, although in hindsight we picked it up fairly quickly, within a month doing some significant things, but the first couple weeks was very humbling."
Re-training himself as an ice skater required hours and hours of practice; Thornton said he was on the ice every day in sessions that lasted between three and four hours. It would be tiring and stressful, but he said having Evora, a two-time U.S. pairs figure skating silver medalist, as a partner made things easier.
"She's such a driven and talented athlete," Thornton said. "I had an opportunity to skate with one of the world's best figure skaters. Her discipline on the ice and the way she coached me is exactly how I respond. Very straight-forward, messages are clear and direct. … I think it was a perfect partnership.
"She's definitely intense but we made every day fun. I just think her as well as our main coaches, I thought it was brilliant that they can get me to do what I was doing in a short time and keeping the mood light on the ice. You do a couple sessions a day, three or four hours a day on the ice, it could go the other way and become frustrating and challenging. Amanda and the coaches made it a lot of fun every day and kept it rolling."
Thornton said one of his highlights was getting perfect 6.0 scores from judges Kurt Browning, Jamie Sale and P.J. Stock for a Week 5 skate to the song Bolero that featured a triple twist, what Thornton called, "our biggest and most challenging trick."
The hour-long finale featured a number of highlight clips while Thornton and Evora, along with Strudwick and Afanasieva and third-place finishers Mathieu Dandenault and partner Marie-France Dubreuil were left to wait. And wait. And wait.
"I was actually laughing," Thornton said. "I've never been in a situation like that. It's a reality TV show, and that whole suspense and drama they're building, I started chuckling on the ice. Kurt came out and did a big loop around the ice with the envelope. I was like, 'Come on man, just tell us what's going on.'"
When Thornton was announced as the winner, he was able to celebrate with a number of friends and family in attendance for the show, which was taped at the MasterCard Centre in Toronto.
"Once they announced it, it was incredible," he said. "I had a lot of family and friends in the audience to celebrate. It was a pretty special moment. … I had a lot of teammates that showed up here live with their wives and kids. I got over 70 text messages [Sunday] after the show and a lot of them were from hockey friends that I haven't seen in 10-plus years, but they were tuning in."