Joe Thornton San Jose Sharks Legacy: Folklore

joe thornton

We’re on to the second article in our four-part look at the San Jose Sharks career of Joe Thornton.

Joe Thornton Sharks Legacy: Brilliance

Now: Joe Thornton Sharks Legacy: Folklore

Next: Joe Thornton Sharks Legacy: California

Joe Thornton Sharks Legacy: Toronto

With the departure of Joe Thornton, not only does the best player in San Jose Sharks franchise history leave town, but one of the team’s more colourful characters does as well. Today we’ll look at some of the folklore surrounding him.

Jumbo Joe Thornton

Joe Thornton received the nickname Jumbo, allegedly, from Boston sportswriter Kevin Paul Dupont. Dupont claims the name derived from Jumbo the elephant, who died in a train accident in Thornton’s hometown of St. Thomas, Ontario. It occurred 94 years before Jumbo the hockey player was born. Even the backstory carries more than a hint of folklore.

The nickname fits Jumbo the hockey player: a large man with a large persona.

The Chippy Joe Thornton

Thornton was no stranger to fighting opposing players. And to be clear, when Thornton fights, he’s fighting. There is no prima donna keeping his distance or trying to tie up the other guy. There’s a lot of gusto in Jumbo’s fisticuffs.  The list of his battles includes a lot of ‘A’ listers. Drew Doughty, Jonathan Toews and Jamie Benn among them. He didn’t back down from Tom Wilson, but he didn’t win that battle.

Still, three of his fights stand out, each for a vastly different reason.

His January 2018 fight with Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri came with a special distinction. Kadri grabbed Thornton’s legendary beard and yanked on it, leaving a handful of beard on the ice.

Another fight, though it can hardly be called a fight, came when Carolina Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek went after Thornton. Thornton went back at Mrazek and knocked him down with a single punch. The Hurricanes, a team that finds fun in unusual ways, placed an outline of the fallen (but not injured) goalie on their practice ice the following day.

Likely his most famous fight came in Game 6 of the 2009 playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks. Thornton and similarly-sized rival Ryan Getzlaf dropped the gloves and had a big boy tussle — off the opening face-off.

Crossing Lines

While Thornton has never been afraid to mix it up, he’s crossed the line a few times.

He was suspended in 2010 when he exited the penalty box and clipped St. Louis Blues forward David Perron in the head. Thornton took a two-game suspension for the hit, Perron would miss over a season recovering from the concussion. Perron would later describe the hit, saying “it’s affected my life a lot”.

In 2019, in the playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights, a frustrated Thornton hit Tomas Nosek in the head, drawing a minor penalty (he deserved a major) and earned a one-game suspension. Though there were plenty of head hits in the 2019 postseason involving the Sharks (mostly hits on Sharks players), this was the only head-hit penalty called in any of the Sharks 20 postseason games.

And while it didn’t come in a Sharks uniform, it is safe to say Thornton was no fan of longtime division rival Ryan Kesler. So in the 2017 World Cup of Hockey, Thornton took full advantage and ran Kesler hard.

The Fun Side of Jumbo

The most recognizable characteristic of Joe Thornton in recent years is his beard. Big, bushy and well, just the best in the game. One of the best ever. He describes it as a lifestyle.

From the rooster trick (he gave it a name, but never did get one himself) which can’t be properly explained in this family forum, to his posing for ESPN’s “Body Issue” to a shirtless stroll in Pittsburgh during the Sharks Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pens, there was a fun side to Thornton which came through often. He is a man comfortable in his own sandals

Including signing a contract, sitting in a field on his riding lawnmower, wearing sandals.

Then there were the bobbleheads, highlights of Thornton’s journey, including one featuring a shirtless Thornton and another featuring beard hair, a nod to his fight with Kadri.

Thornton made numerous commercials for the team. The most famous might be the one where he plays a lousy ventriloquist with his wooden dummy, Slappy. My personal favourite is the one where he plays chess with Barclay Goodrow, impatiently urging a hesitant Goodrow to “pull the trigger man”, hockey slang for ‘“shoot the puck.” To the frustration of his coaches (all of them), Thornton often passed the puck when coaches’ preferred he pull the trigger. Alas, they weren’t changing Thornton. But it was fun to see Thornton in this ad take a shot at himself.

Even during a game, Thornton could find moments to enjoy the world around him. During a stop in play during the 2016 playoffs against the St. Louis Blues, a group of young Blues fans sat on the other side of the glass from Thornton. And Thornton squirted a bit of water on them, then playfully joined in their dance.

The Teammate

There was plenty of texture to Thornton’s Sharks career. When Evander Kane was traded to the Sharks, it was Thornton who came to the airport to pick him up.

He spent a difficult year after being stripped of his captaincy for the 2014-15 season. He had a public spat with general manager Doug Wilson and was mocked by fans in Winnipeg chanting “who’s your captain?” That season, the team missed the playoffs for the first time in Thornton’s tenure as a Shark. A damaged shoulder for the second half of the season resulted in his worst campaign in teal.  But to his credit, Joe Thornton moved forward and delivered a dominant season the following year.

Thornton was fine playing mind games, too. In 2011, Vancouver Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows bit the fingers of the Boston Bruins Patrice Bergeron. Several months later, Thornton found a chance to use that history. As Thornton and Canucks captain Henrik Sedin met with an official during a stop in play, Thornton repeatedly put his fingers in front of Sedin’s mouth, mocking Burrows and annoying the Canucks captain.

The Joy of Joe Thornton

In the end, though, the best images of Joe Thornton will be the joyous ones. His 400th goal celebration, his final Sharks hat trick and the Jumbo slide after scoring the overtime series winner against the Los Angeles Kings. Sharks fans will recall many of the fun moments, but the best kind of joy is the sort one gets to share. And Thornton shared plenty in his 15 years in San Jose.

We live in an era where much is recorded. Had Thornton lived in an earlier era, it’d be difficult to separate the myth from the reality. There is a Paul Bunyan-esque quality to Jumbo. But we live in this era, and the history is real, and there for all to see and appreciate.

Joe Thornton’s on-ice excellence will be long remembered in Sharks territory. The player may have moved on, but the legend of Jumbo remains.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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