“I’ve never met him. Never crossed paths. But I could tell you a million stories about the guy just overhearing guys talk about him.”
Take it from second-year John Leonard, who’s never met Joe Thornton, to put into context how much of an impact that Jumbo had on the San Jose Sharks organization.
For the first time since before the world fell into a pandemic, Thornton is set to return to the Shark Tank tonight.
Over the last two years, the man they call Jumbo has spent a season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and has currently hooked on with the Florida Panthers. This will be Thornton’s first time at SAP Center since Mar. 8, 2020, though the Sharks did see him in Florida in January.
Tomáš Hertl shared his thoughts on losing Thornton two seasons ago: “He was there with me from day one, and we played a lot of games together. So it was tough to see him [go].
“Everybody [feels that way], but he meant [a lot to] me, and I’ll always remember the first couple of years and how he helped me to my career. You know, he helped me score probably 40, or more even, goals because he made it a really easy first couple years for me.”
Mentor, line mate, friend and all of the above. Going to miss having him around the locker room. They don’t make them like him anymore! You got a good one @MapleLeafs. Good luck in Blue Jumbo! pic.twitter.com/gyDlWqRMNe
— Kevin Labanc (@Str8ToTheBanc) October 16, 2020
— Brent Burns (@Burnzie88) October 16, 2020
EARLY YEARS OF PLAYING WITH JUMBO
Current San Jose Sharks captain Logan Couture played his first game in teal during Thornton’s 13th season in the NHL and fifth with the Sharks.
“I remember thinking, wow, this is easy. I get to play in the final four every year,” Couture recalled of his first seasons in the NHL, which included two trips to the Western Conference Finals. “I was very fortunate to play on those teams. I remember Jumbo, Patty [Patrick Marleau], and Danny Heatley were a great line together. Jumbo, Patty, and [Devin] Setoguchi. Just a lot of good memories, good hockey, fun hockey. The building was always so loud.
“I’m thinking back now, brings back a lot of good memories. Unfortunately, [we] didn’t get the final job done, but we made it to a Final in ’16 there. So some good years.”
Hertl joined Team Teal five seasons after Couture and remembers Thornton being a welcoming figure as the Czech forward transitioned to North America: “I was really lucky when I got here because I started playing with Jumbo, and it was such an honor.
“I remember when I got here, on the bike, he sat next to me, and we were just biking. I was telling my parents, I just biked next to Joe Thornton, and it was before the season. I didn’t even know I will be playing them him. He was really nice to me right away from the first game.”
IMPACT ON TEAMMATES
Speaking on his time playing with Jumbo, Hertl knows that playing alongside the more experienced Thornton improved his game. However, Thornton not only had an impact on the ice, but he also kept things fun for his teammates when they were off the ice.
“Sometimes he was a little hard on me, but he just tried to make me better. He knew what I could do, so he just sometimes pushed me,” the 28-year-old star said. “[Thornton] is one of the best locker room guys ever. You guys know that. He was always laughing, always a happy guy, but at the end of the day, he hates losing. He was also always doing for the team and just getting them going because he wants to win so bad.”
But work ethic was always evident with Jumbo when he was with the Sharks. In fact, it still is. He continues to set an example for players in San Jose even though he no longer dons the teal sweater.
“Even this past summer, he came back here,” said Couture. “It’s a lot easier to get up and get to the gym when you know Jumbo’s going to be in there.
“A) because it’s fun and B) because if a 42-year-old is outworking you, then you’ve got to get going, so for me, he always added that little extra drive. You know you can’t miss a day because Jumbo’s always going to be there, and if you miss a day, he’s going to give it to you. More often, a lot of guys have that same work ethic now, and I think a lot of that reason is because of Joe.”
Florida Panthers interim head coach Andrew Brunette has been impressed by the work ethic that Thornton displays even still: “He’s been such a nice addition to our group, and he’s handled himself so well. Whatever we ask him, he’s ready to do, he’s a special human being.”
BEING A LEADER
San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner spent just three seasons coaching Jumbo, but he still knows the effect Thornton’s leadership has had on even the current roster. Any time you can learn from a talent like Joe Thornton, it seems guys rush to take notes.
“A lot of guys have taken things from Joe for sure,” he said. “There will never be another Joe Thornton, just in how he approaches the rink every day and how engaged he is in the room.”
Joining the Sharks organization as an assistant coach under Pete DeBoer in 2015, Boughner remembers what it was like to have Thornton well established on the team.
“Joe was just amazing for us. I mean, he’s like having another coach in the room,” he said. “I think the best thing about Joe was how he held his room and how he held his teammates accountable.”
And Thornton, at 42 years old, is still taking the weight off the coaching staff, albeit in a much different role in Florida. Jumbo has actually been healthy scratched with some frequency by the loaded Panthers, a decidedly unusual occurrence for the likely first-ballot Hall of Famer.
“When you can scratch a Joe Thornton, you can scratch anyone,” first-time head coach Brunette said. “He has taken it upon himself to relay that the team is bigger than the individual.
“And he comes to work every day. To see how much fun he has playing the game every day — maybe not getting the minutes he is used to — is pretty unique.”
When asked about what he saw as the legacy left behind by Jumbo in San Jose, Couture couldn’t name just one thing.
“[Thornton was] one of the best players in the world here for, I think it was, 15 years. For players that played here and fans got to watch him on a nightly basis, it was a treat. Every night, he would do something very few in the world could do,” the captain remembered. “I’m sure there’s a lot of memories for fans here. A lot of memories for guys in the room, just being around him as a person. Take away the hockey side of it, [just] him as a person, [he’s] one of a kind.”
Couture also noted Thornton’s influence can even be seen in some of the younger guys on the Sharks roster, Including those who hadn’t shared the ice with Jumbo as much.
“We all do our things in our own separate ways, and you know, for someone even like Mario who got to see Jumbo and Patty, [he] can pick something up from those two guys, and myself and Burnzie,” he said. “I tried to do that when I was a young guy, you know, find something that Patty Marleau does well, and do that. Follow what he does.”
Boughner considered Thornton’s legacy on a broader scale: “He was a pillar of this organization. There’s no other player. You think about the San Jose Sharks, and Jumbo is the first guy that comes to mind.”
Boughner and the Sharks are in Jumbo’s corner, no matter what logo he may sport during the season. Maybe not so much in games against San Jose, but there are very few even in the Sharks crowd who wouldn’t be at least a little proud if Thornton attains hockey’s ultimate prize: “He is missed in the locker room. He is missed amongst his teammates that were here playing with him, but I think everybody’s in the same boat pulling for him. Hopefully, he has a chance to win something.”
And could coaching be in Thornton’s future? After all, Boughner called him an extension of the coaching staff. Brunette doesn’t count it out as an option.
“Jumbo will do whatever Jumbo wants to do. Any door will be open for him.”
Everything is b̶i̶g̶g̶e̶r̶ JUMBO is Texas. pic.twitter.com/bUEjcs7gzR
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) December 7, 2018
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