Shawn Thornton took the road less traveled to reach 600 NHL games. In fact, he’s only the third player in history to travel that road.
On the doorstep of his 600th NHL game, Thornton will join will join Jim Morrison (721 AHL GP & 704 NHL GP) and Dave Creighton (800 AHL GP & 616 NHL GP) as the only players to reach 600 games in North America’s two highest level pro hockey leagues. Thornton however, is the first player to play 600 games in the AHL before reaching 600 in the NHL.
“It’s definitely pretty cool”, said Thornton of his upcoming milestone. “It was a long time in the minors and I never thought I’d get 600 games in the NHL after playing nine years down there.”
“Perseverance paid off,” he said.
Beginning his AHL career with the St. John’s Maple Leafs (1997-01), Thornton moved back and forth between the NHL and AHL from 2001-2007 making stops in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals (2001-06) and Portland Pirates (2006-07). Thornton earned NHL call-ups during those years with the Chicago Blackhawks (2002-06) and with the Anaheim Ducks (2006-07) where he won his first Stanley Cup.
“I got a break with Anaheim,” said Thornton of earning his first full-time NHL job. “It doesn’t hurt [to win a Stanley Cup] and to sign a three-year deal out of that.”
Following his season with the Ducks, Thornton joined the Boston Bruins, where he spent seven seasons (2007-14) and won a Stanley Cup. But when Boston comes to South Florida tonight, there won’t be a welcome mat laid out for his former team.
“It’s a huge game for us. We are treating it like a [playoff] game five,” said Thornton. “This is what you play for. It’s nice to have exciting games this time of year. I’ve been on the other side sometimes where they don’t matter at this time of year. I’d rather be here.”
With three more games against Boston, including tonight, Thornton and the Panthers sit five points behind the eighth place Boston team for a wild card playoff spot.
“We’ve got to win our games. I’ve said it for the last few weeks. Nobody’s going to do us any favors.”
With a combined 1,204 games played and 3,422 penalty minutes between the NHL and AHL, Thornton is ready for the fight to make the postseason. The 37-year old forward is more concerned with pushing the Panthers into games past April 11 than his own personal milestone, no matter how impressive it may be.
“It’s cool. Let’s get it over with,” said Thornton.
“Let’s win the game.”