Former B's teammates lament Thornton's exit

Former B's teammates lament Thornton's exit
August 12, 2014, 2:15 pm
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(AP Photo)

MIDDLETON, Mass. – It could be easy for some with agendas to discount what Bruins right wing Shawn Thornton contributed on the ice over the last seven years.  

After all he was a fourth line enforcer that only scored double digit goals once in his career in Boston, and wasn’t expected to play much more than six minutes a game, if that, once the Stanley Cup playoffs rolled around. The anti-fighting faction of the NHL media would have you convinced that Thornton couldn’t really play the game, and that’s just a load of garbage.  

Thornton will be missed both on the ice, and off the frozen sheet.

He played with a toughness and swagger that raised the confidence level of players around him, and made Boston’s skill players feel like they were protected from the league’s predators. It didn’t make the B’s bullet proof, obviously, as evidenced by the hard head shots that guys like Marc Savard, Nathan Horton, Loui Eriksson and Patrice Bergeron have taken over the years.

But it could have been worse if No. 22 wasn’t glowering at the cheap shot artists from the end of the bench.  

His teammates know that they’ll need to pick up rough and tumble slack with No. 22 in Florida skating for the Panthers over the next couple of season. That may mean players dropping the gloves that hadn’t normally done it in the past, or guys like Milan Lucic and Kevan Miller doing it even more frequently than they did in the past.

“With Shawn here, he had that intimidation factor where you knew you could get away with certain things because he was on the ice,” said Daniel Paille. “This season it’s going to be different, and guys are going to have to fight because of it. I don’t think that’s a big deal.”

Thornton could also surprise on occasion with his skill, and never saw a shot on net that he didn’t like. Sometimes that was the best play of all, and that went doubly so for bottom line forwards expected to keep it simple. He wasn’t a lead-footed liability, or a guy that couldn’t function offensively in the attack zone.

In short he was a hockey player that fought, and that breed seems to be dying out at the NHL level.  

But perhaps more importantly Thornton will be missed off the ice.

His witty one-liners, affable personality and inclusive tendencies brought everybody together in the Boston dressing room, and knocked down walls where cliques might have otherwise developed. Those kinds of players are incredibly important over the course of a nine-month season that includes preseason games, an 82-game regular season, a two month playoff run and plenty of brush fires along the way.

“It’s been really nice to have one constant over the last four years. We had pretty good chemistry together, and we did our job. That’s really all the organization, or the fans, could ask from us,” said Campbell. “We came to the rink every night, did our job and it was a lot of fun.”

Subtracting Andrew Ference and Thornton from the Bruins dressing room in successive years is going to have a lasting impact on the team’s personality, and it’s not necessarily a good one.

“It’ll be different. He’s a pretty vocal guy in the locker room, and on the ice,” said Tuukka Rask, who also owns half a boat with Thornton that’s docked in Boston. “He’s also a great guy off the ice, and in the community. Our team has grown and matured over the years, though, and I think there are people that can take his role.

“Those are the guys you never want to give up, though. I don’t think people necessarily talk about it too much, but you need that kind of leadership inside the locker room. You can’t just be quiet in there. You have to have young guys step up when you lose that, and its part of the challenge. Every team has to go through it.”

Hopefully Rask is correct that other players, including the Finnish goalie will step up and fill the void. But it was also something that former teammates couldn’t help but remark on while attending his Fifth Annual Putts and Punches for Parkinson’s golf tournament at the Ferncroft Country Club on Monday afternoon.

“It’s definitely going to be a different atmosphere, you know,” said Paille. “It’ll be an adjustment at first, but we’ll move on eventually. He has a presence in the room that we’ll all miss, but I’ll still hang out with him in the summers.

“We won’t know [how much we miss him] until the season starts. We’ll have those where you’ll go ‘Geez, Shawn would have said something here’, or he would have brought something to the table. But that’s where somebody else is going to have to do it, and we’d rather do it sooner rather than later.”

Clearly the fourth line formerly known as the Merlot Line will be a completely different entity next season. Thornton is gone to Florida, of course, but there is a chance at least one other member of the trio – whether it’s Campbell or Paille – will be playing on a different line this coming season.

It doesn’t appear that the Bruins will regularly skate a classic enforcer among their 12 forwards. It’s been a long time since that happened in Boston where fans enjoy an old-fashioned hockey donnybrook.  

On the one hand change is exciting and can sometimes yield unexpected treasures, it was difficult for its former members to essentially write the line’s obituary at a charity golf event.

“It’ll be a big change for both of us. I don’t know where we’ll be playing, or who we’ll be playing with,” said Paille. “I’ve talked a little bit with Soupy, but not about going into the season with Shawn. It’ll be a huge change not having him there. We had established ourselves for so long, and now we need to reinvent that.”

At this point the Bruins only seem to be losing two key players from last season’s squad in Jarome Iginla and Thornton. While Iginla’s 30 goals scored will be missed, they can be replaced on a line with a skilled playmaker like David Krejci.

What isn’t so easily manufactured is Thornton’s force of personality in the B’s dressing room, and life without No. 22 will be one of the narratives for next season whether people like it or not.