Late in the afternoon on July 1, the Florida Panthers announced the signing of Shawn Thornton
. A veteran winger who spent the last seven seasons with the Boston Bruins, the 37-year old’s career stat line reads as follows: 538 games, 38 goals, 50 assists and 906 penalty minutes. Two other stats are worth noting as well: 2, as in Stanley Cup rings, and 101, as in career playoff games. Those two numbers together say the most important thing about the player:
Shawn Thornton knows what it takes to win. And he’s willing to do it.
Thornton has frequently been relied on by his teams and teammates to play a protector-type role and put his fists to use during an 11-year NHL career that has included four seasons with 100 or more PIMs, but his hands have emerged in-tact, as evidenced by the fact that he has been able to fit those two rings on them. He won his first Cup in 2007 as a member of the Anaheim Ducks, and won his second four years later as a member of the Bruins. Thornton was a key member of both championship clubs, bringing his competitive drive and hard-hitting style of play to each lineup. His insertion into the Bruins lineup (after being previously scratched) for Game 3 of the 2011 Final against the Vancouver Canucks has been cited as a turning point in the series that helped the Bruins adopt a more physical style of play and win four of the final five games to capture the Cup.
Thornton anticipates that his Stanley Cup experience will be valuable to Florida’s young core of talent, saying “If the kids ask questions, and they would like to know what it’s about, some things I have picked up along the way or any type of advice or experience, I am more than happy to share.”
A native of Oshawa, ON, Thornton was drafted in the seventh round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He would make his NHL debut during the 2002-03 season as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, for whom he would play three seasons before moving on to Anaheim. It was in Chicago where Thornton would get to know then-Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon, who was impressed by Thornton’s character and his willingness to do anything to help his teammates. In announcing the Panthers’ signing of Thornton on July 1, Tallon remarked: “[Thornton] is a veteran, hardworking, physical player who brings tremendous leadership and toughness to our team.”
Though not known for it, Thornton has also at times shown that his hands can help put pucks in nets. He scored 10 goals and added 10 assists during the 2010-11 season, and picked up 4 assists in the 2012-13 playoffs. While the Panthers will not look to Thornton to pull off slick moves with the puck on a nightly basis (that’s more in the wheelhouse of fellow July 1 signee, Jussi Jokinen), the team will be more than appreciative if he elects to contribute another shorthanded penalty shot goal like this one: (http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=148673).
Thornton acknowledges that toughness is a key part of his game but he believes the ability to play solid defense, with flashes of skill here and there, have contributed to the longevity of his career.
“I’ve worked very hard over the last 16 years to become more than a one dimensional hockey player,” Thornton said. “I think that I bring other things to the table. I am smart defensively, and pretty good positionally, and every once and awhile, I surprise people.”
Off the ice, Thornton has been an extremely active and valuable member of the community and has spearheaded many significant charitable efforts. His Shawn Thornton Foundation fights to improve the lives of those affected by cancer and Parkinson’s diseases. Thornton was moved to get involved with the fight against the disease after losing his grandmother to a 14 year battle with Parkinson’s. During his time with the Bruins, Thornton served as a spokesman for Athletes for Heroes, an organization that supports the children of fallen or severely injured soldiers. Those and other efforts in and around Boston earned him the John P. Bucyk Award, given to a member of the team who contributes the most to charitable and community endeavors.
“I love that stuff,” Thornton said. “Everywhere I’ve been, I have always tried to embrace the community. I get a better feel for people in the area when you are out and about, doing those things.”
Given the Panthers’ strong commitment to community service and helping military families in Broward County and South Florida, Thornton will certainly have many resources available to assist him in his continuing efforts to make a positive impact on the lives of those around him.
“We are very fortunate to do what we do for a living,” Thornton said. “To take an hour out of our day a few times a month to put some smiles on faces, I think that is the least we can do.”
For a Panthers club that features many young players with long careers ahead of them, the example Thornton sets both on the ice and in the community will be a welcome and valuable addition to the locker room and beyond.
For the Panthers faithful, the addition of a lovable enforcer with a heart of gold will be cause for adding a new name to the list of Florida fan favorites.