I grew up on the South Shore of Montreal. As a kid, my favorite hockey team always been the Boston Bruins. For my parents, I was a failure. While everyone else was cheering for the Montreal Canadiens, I was wearing proudly those yellow, black & white colors. Cam Neely & Ray Bourque were my two idols. But this was about to change.
In 1997, the Boston Bruins had the first overall NHL Entry Draft pick. At 18 years old, Joe Thornton, was selected. I couldn’t be happier. This guy had everything to be a superstar. He was hard working, had great offensive skills, had huge leadership potential and was 6’4. You couldn’t ask for more. I was already thinking that the Bruins would win the Stanley Cup with this pick. In my mind, it was a lock.
Young Jumbo Joe started his first NHL career at 18 years old. While averaging 8minutes 5seconds of ice time per game, he accumulated 3 goals and 7 points in 55 games. Bruins made the playoff, but lost in the first round and Joe had 0 points in 6 games. Let’s not forget that Sergei Samsonov (8th pick overall in 1997 by the Boston Bruins) won the rookie of the year that season with 47 points. Samsonov’ career ended in 2011 with the Florida Panthers while Joe was still dominating the league.
The year after, Thornton started to show why he was a 1st round pick. 41 points in 81 games while almost doubling his ice time. Bruins made the playoffs, again, and lost in their second round. Thornton had 9 points in 11 games that run.
Prior to the 2002-2003 season, Joe was named team captain, succeeding Jason Allison (who joined the Los Angeles Kings). On his first season as a captain, Joe recorded 68 points over 66 games. Bruins still made the playoff, but lost in the first round.
On his last year with the Boston Bruins, Joe finished with 0 points in 7 games in the playoffs and ended with -6. Fans started to think he was useless. Bruins only missed the playoff once since drafting Jumbo Joe but never made it past the second round. People thought he was just a regular season guy who didn’t show up in the playoffs. I knew it wasn’t true. I always loved Thornton. The truth is, you can’t win the Stanley Cup by yourself. While all the spotlights were on him as Boston were playing in the playoffs, his teammates didn’t help him much. But he was the captain, he was the 1st round pick and he was supposed to carry his team every game.
In 2003-2004, NHL had a lockout. Thornton went abroad to play with the HC Davos in the Swiss National League A. With his help, the team won the League championship & the Spengler Cup. Since then, Jumbo Joe returns every summer to train for up to a month with the HC Davos.
While the NHL resumed in 2005, Thornton was an RFA. He wasn’t happy about the Bruins franchise as well as all the criticism he received for the Bruins playoff history. Even with all this, he signed with the team. 3 year contract worth 20 million.
On November 2005, Thornton was traded to the San Jose Sharks in exchange of Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart. At that time, Thornton was the team’s leading scorer by a big margin.
This is when I gave up being a Boston Bruins fan. To me, as a young hockey fan, this was the most stupid trade I’ve ever witnessed. They didn’t receive any prospects or picks, they got players that weren’t even close to Jumbo Joe in term of skills and what they can bring to a team.
Since then, the San Jose Sharks missed the playoffs once. Joe Thornton accumulated 92 points in 115 playoff games. He won 2 gold medals with team Canada (2005-2006 & 2009-2010).
For the first time in his life, Joe is heading to the Stanley Cup series. With 18 pts in 18 games (+6) Jumbo Joe is a big reason why this team is so good. At 36 years old while the NHL is getting younger, Thornton is still showing the kids how this game should be played.
I truly hope the Sharks win the Stanley Cup. Thornton’s career is a perfect example of determination and never giving up your dream.
Go Jumbo Joe. We are with you.
From an ex-Boston Bruins fan.