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Thorburn reflects on time in Winnipeg after announcing retirement

"The experience was, bar none, one of the favourite parts of my career." -Thorburn

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

Chris Thorburn had a special Father's Day this June.

He and his wife Sara brought their three kids, Bennett, Mary, and Oscar on a special trip.

"We went to grandma and grandpa's house and had an outdoor picnic there," he said. "She has some horses, so the kids were able to mix it up with the horses and play outside a little bit."

The 37-year-old veteran of over 800 National Hockey League games is looking forward to even more memories like that one with his family, and now, after retiring from the NHL officially on June 22 - he has more time to do it.

"It was an unreal ride from being drafted, to the process in the minors, to my NHL career," said Thorburn, who was drafted in the second round of the 2001 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres.

Video: ON THE LINE | Chris Thorburn

He played two full seasons in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans before getting his first taste of the NHL in the 2005-06 season.

The gritty forward spent the 2006-07 campaign with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization before coming to the Atlanta Thrashers to start the 2007-08 season.

That began a run of four seasons with the Thrashers and another six with the Winnipeg Jets after relocation in 2011. 

He remembers the move from Atlanta to Winnipeg like it was yesterday. 

"If it wasn't for (Jets General Manager) Kevin Cheveldayoff reaching out, talking us through it, and the course of action that was about to take place, it would have been a lot worse. Once we got to Winnipeg, it was 'holy man,'" Thorburn said. "That first game against Montreal, the atmosphere in that building, it was absolutely insane."

That atmosphere is one of the main things that will stick with Thorburn, who played 713 regular season and playoff games with the Jets franchise, recording 49 goals and 121 points in that span.

It isn't difficult for Thorburn to come up with some of his favourite memories from those years. First, the famed GST Line with Tanner Glass and Jim Slater.

"We actually have a group chat going to this day," Thorburn laughed. "We all kind of remember one game where we got stuck in our zone for two minutes. The fans started yelling 'GST! GST!' to help us try and get the puck out of our end. When we did, the fans cheered.

"It was pretty special to have that kind of story. The fans, the way they took us in as far as players - me Slates and Glasser - we loved stepping on that ice surface at home especially."

His first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which came in 2015, took that experience of playing on home ice to a whole new level.

"It was an incredible opportunity and experience. When we got our two home games, we let games slide away. There was a crazy stat that we held the lead in those games for a crazy amount of time and we ended up losing," said Thorburn.

"The experience was, bar none, one of the favourite parts of my career."

If anything could top that, perhaps it came at the end of the 2018-19 season.

Thorburn was in the second year of a two-year contract with the St. Louis Blues, and had spent the majority of that season with their AHL affiliate - the San Antonio Rampage.

He was recalled on April 5 and spent the playoffs with the Blues, who lifted the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history on June 12, 2019.

"To lift that Cup, it was crazy," he said. "I wasn't just lifting it for myself. There are so many people throughout my career that either gave me advice or made sacrifices - family members, my wife - I lifted that Cup for a lot of people. Just for that reason it was super special."

These days, Thorburn and his family are living in Michigan where they've built a house. While the playing part of his hockey career may be over, Thorburn said his experience in San Antonio during his final season gave him a taste of how he could continue to give back to the game he loves so much.

"I took on more of a mentor role. I loved it. I took so much pride in it," said Thorburn. "When I was a younger kid or a younger player, I got that help from the older guys. To come full circle and be that older guy to let the kids lean on and ask questions and advice was super awesome. 

"If there was something down the road as far as development or mentor role that I got the opportunity to do, that would be top notch."

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