With the Florida Panthers in town to take on the Spoked-B on Tuesday night, Thornton was back in the confines of TD Garden, settling into the visiting team room for the first time.
As Bruins have come and gone from the 2011 Cup squad, their impact has always been remembered. A few weeks ago, Johnny Boychuk made his return. Last season, the likes of Andrew Ference and Tim Thomas, among others, all made their first returns to the place they called home for so long.
Each former Bruin meets with Boston reporters, and flashes a smile about the excitement of being back in Boston, because he genuinely means it.
"I'm excited. It will probably settle in a little more tonight when I get here," Thornton said on Tuesday morning, as the Panthers went through their pregame routines at TD Garden. "It was a little weird walking in the other door, but it's good, it's good to be back."
Wearing his red Panthers' workout shirt and hat, Thornton agreed with Boychuk's obvious-but-still-worth-noting assessment of being back - it was "different."
"Yeah, there's no other way to explain it I guess, it is, it's just different," said Thornton, who spent seven seasons in Black and Gold. "It's part of the sport, you move on, you go to different places, but coming back here, after seven years and the success we had, it is, it's different being on this side."
"Excited and different, those are the two words I've been saying a lot, too, there's not much else to say about it."
It's been different for Patrice Bergeron and the Bruins, too.
"Yeah, it’s been different," Bergeron said prior to Thornton's return. "He was definitely one of the older guys that we’ve been through a lot together, and definitely it’s different seeing him gone and not with us, but hopefully things are going well in Florida for him."
With the Panthers, Thornton has taken on a similar role as he had with Boston, providing energy on the fourth line. His squad was 4-0-2 in their past six games before facing off against the Bruins on Tuesday.
"We've got a sneaky good team here - great bunch of guys, great locker room, it's been seamless that way," Thornton said. "Guys enjoy being around each other every day and it's kind of translating onto the ice."
"New coaches, new system, new all that, so the first few games everyone was trying to get used to it, but they've been playing some pretty good hockey as of late and I'm hoping that we keep surprising some people."
While Thornton was looking forward to his return, down the hall in the Bruins' locker room, his former teammates were just as excited.
"Yeah, it'll be fun," said Brad Marchand. "I think we've all grown to have a pretty good relationship with Thorty and it will be fun to see him on the other side and hear what he has to say. It will be good to see him again."
It was no secret how much of an impact Thornton had on the team, on and off the ice, even with playing limited minutes on the fourth line.
So, what has Marchand missed most about him?
"Just how loud he is," smiled Marchand. "You know, he's always bringing energy to the room and he makes it light and fun around here, and it's almost like we all have to pick up the chatter now that he's gone."
"It's different without him, and I'm not getting yelled at as much, so that's nice," the winger laughed. "But yeah, he's definitely missed."
While Thornton has taken his talking to Sunrise, Fla. for the next two seasons, the Bruins have adjusted without his presence. On the ice, Simon Gagne has filled a solid fourth line role. In the room and on the bench, veterans and younger players have stepped up their talking.
"He's definitely vocal in trying to pump up guys when he's sitting on the bench, waiting, and when he's on the ice, you know he's giving everything he has, skating and hitting, and he'd do anything he can to get a win for us," said former linemate Daniel Paille, reflecting on his time playing with Thornton.
"I think we all know what he's capable of, and definitely miss that aspect of his game. So we're finding that identity now."
While both sides have moved on, Tuesday night will present an opportunity for Thornton to briefly reflect on his successful, memorable time in the Spoked-B.
"It was class act from the day I started here till the day I finished," said Thornton. "I mean, everything, the way they treated me from day one, I've got no complaints. Nothing but gratitude for them."
As with Boychuk, and Ference, and Thomas, and the rest of the 2011 crew, Thornton will likely receive a video tribute at some point during the game.
"I'll probably be crying like a baby," Thornton joked. "No, we'll see, I don't know what's going to happen. Let's wait and see, but like I said, I'm excited to be here. This is going to be fun. It's good to be back in this building, good to play against some guys you know."
"I'm going to enjoy it, going to embrace it as much as possible."
The night also presents an opportunity for the fans to give him a memorable return.
"It was great while I was here, I'm hoping I get that reception," said Thornton. "I don't want to take anything for granted and just assume I'll get a good reception, you never know. If they do, it will be appreciated, that's for sure."