BOSTON – There aren’t many Bruins players who have strong connections to the Chicago Blackhawks, but B’s fourth line enforcer Shawn Thornton qualifies as the individual with the strongest ties.
The 35-year-old NHL veteran debuted for the Blackhawks during the 2002-03 season when injuries hit Chicago out of training camp. He wore No. 49 for head coach Brian Sutter while riding on the right wing with Michael Nylander and Steve Sullivan. It was back in the dark days of the Blackhawks when the games weren’t shown on TV, and it became a home for fading NHL veterans like Theo Fleury, Phil Housley and Alex Zhamnov.
Thornton said some of the current nucleus of players were coming up through the Chicago organization in his final 2005-06 season before moving on to the Ducks organization, but it doesn’t feel like the same “dreadful” Blackhawks organization that he was a part of prior to finding his home in Boston.
“It’s a whole new management, a whole new coaching staff and a different owner,” said Thornton. “The only thing is that it’s the same building . Keith and [Brent] Seabrook were just coming through. I played with Duncan Keith during the [2004-05] lockout. You could see that the kids were going to be good players, and the organization was going the [right] way. We were dreadful when I played there.
“I remember a lot of hotel rooms. I never got a place when I was there, so I just stayed in hotels all the time from October until January. My first year I wasn’t expected to make the team, but there were a couple of injuries and I had really good [fitness] testing. I tested through the roof with my VO2, so that got me noticed by the coaching staff and in the door with [Brian] Sutter. He appreciates hard work.”
He played 31 games for the Blackhawks over the course of three seasons, and finished with two goals, three points, a minus-7 rating along with 70 penalty minutes before he established himself with the Anaheim Ducks. But the top-six role he was dropped into with legit offensive performers in Nylander and Sullivan shows just how much talent Thornton really has as a fourth line hockey player.
“I think I played 13 games, and the first 8 or 9 were with Nylander and Sullivan on the second line. [Eric] Daze got hurt. I played with them through the exhibition season, and stayed there through the end of November, maybe. But it was a great experience of getting my foot in the door.
“I was up-and-down for the rest of it. I think I only played 30-something games there, but I was the extra guy for probably 100 [games]. I was the extra guy a lot, and I was fine with that. Being the extra guy in the NHL is a hell of a lot better than being the second line guy in the AHL.”
Now, Thornton is a lot more than either one of those things.
He’s a two-time Stanley Cup champ looking for No. 3, and he’s the right wing enforcer for the NHL’s best fourth line. They’ve taken a hit with center Gregory Campbell lost for the rest of the playoffs due to the broken right leg, but there should be plenty of opportunity for the ex-Blackhawks forward to make an impact in the Cup Finals against his old Chicago team.