Joe Thorn­ton’s love for hockey leads him to re­mark­able mile­stone

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Cur­tis Pashelka

SAN JOSE — Here they were, two for­wards who were ba­si­cally still learn­ing to skate 20 years ago, talk­ing Tues­day about what it was like to be on the same line with a vet­eran of 1,499 NHL games in Joe Thorn­ton.

“He’s one of the best play­ers to ever play the game,” said Goodrow, who had the game-win­ning goal in the Sharks’ 43 vic­tory over the Min­nesota Wild.

“It’s an honor to play with him,” said Sorensen, who had his first ca­reer three-point game.

Thorn­ton, 39, be­came the 19th player in NHL his­tory to play in 1,500 games Thurs­day when the Sharks vis­ited the Dal­las Stars to start a quick two-game road trip with a 4-3 loss. In 20-plus sea­sons, he’s played 968 games with the Sharks, sec­ond-most in fran­chise his­tory be­hind Pa­trick Mar­leau (1,493).

Ideally, Thorn­ton would’ve reached this mile­stone last sea­son. But in his 1,493rd game on Jan. 23 against the Win­nipeg Jets, a mid-ice col­li­sion with then­team­mate Mikkel Boed­ker re­sulted in torn an­te­rior cru­ci­ate and me­dial col­lat­eral lig­a­ments in his right knee.

Thorn­ton was, at that point, just start­ing to feel his old self again af­ter he had surgery in April 2017 to re­pair the same ex­act in­jury, only to his left knee.

But if Thorn­ton ever grew frus­trated or de­pressed with hav­ing to go through a long re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion in back-to-back off­sea­sons, it didn’t show. He knew he still wanted to play and was go­ing to do what­ever it re­quired to get back on the ice.

“That’s not Jumbo,” said Sharks for­ward To­mas Hertl, who started his NHL ca­reer on the same line with Thorn­ton. “Maybe other guys, but Jumbo, he was say­ing, ‘I will be back.’

“Right away af­ter he was in­jured (in 2017) he was like, ‘Give me two weeks, I’ll be back.’ He was al­ways pos­i­tive. He just wanted to play hockey. He loves the game.”

Sharks gen­eral man­ager Doug Wil­son has seen ev­ery­thing that Thorn­ton has gone through.

“He does things that peo­ple don’t even know or see to be able to play,” he said. “If he ever shared his ac­tual rou­tine with ev­ery­body, peo­ple would not be­lieve it. But you don’t put that much work in if you don’t truly, truly don’t love it. This is a re­ally spe­cial per­son.”

Nights like Tues­day, when Thorn­ton scored his 399th ca­reer goal and helped two young team­mates have un­for­get­table games, would seem to in­di­cate that he still has plenty left to give in a league that is get­ting faster by the sea­son.

“His ath­letic mind has al­ways ran faster than ev­ery­body’s, and it still does,” said John Thorn­ton, Joe’s older brother and agent. “The way he sees the game, that hasn’t slowed down. I still think he’s a pretty quick guy, at least up and down the ice. He thinks the game at

a high enough level, the more you speed it up, he sees it bet­ter than (al­most) ev­ery­body.”

Reach­ing 1,500 games “is re­ally hard to do, and it’s even harder to do in the era that Joe’s in right now,” said Hall of Fame de­fense­man Scott Stevens, who played 1,635 games from 1982-2004 and is now an an­a­lyst for NHL Net­work.

“The way the game has changed, hats off to Joe to fig­ure out how to stay ef­fec­tive and be as good as he has been in a dif­fer­ent era.”

Of the 18 play­ers who have reached this plateau, 14 are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, with oth­ers like Jaromir Jagr, Mar­leau and Jarome Iginla likely to fol­low once they be­come el­i­gi­ble.

Thorn­ton, with 1,430 ca­reer points, 16th all-time, will be there too, one day.

And that’s per­haps the most im­por­tant key to play­ing this long. Along with de­sire and over­all health, you’ve got to be ex­cep­tional.

“Joe is still in­cred­i­ble with what he can do at his age,” Stevens said. “It’s a com­bi­na­tion of things. Stay­ing healthy, and he’s done that, and you’ve got to play some­times in­jured.

“If you look at it, to have 1,000 is pretty amaz­ing. And here he is, putting in an­other 500, which is re­mark­able.”

Thorn­ton is not nec­es­sar­ily big on cel­e­brat­ing in­di­vid­ual mile­stone achieve­ments. But he no doubt rec­og­nizes that he’s about to join a club that fea­tures some of the game’s great­est play­ers.

“"He’s still a fan of the game, so he sees who he’s there with and say ‘well, ‘that guy was awe­some’ or ‘this guy’s awe­some,’” John Thorn­ton said. “I think (he looks at it) more as a fan than a per­sonal ac­com­plish­ment.”

Maybe it’s a mile­stone you ap­pre­ci­ate more as a player when your ca­reer is over.

Those around him ap­pre­ci­ate it right now.

“I play just over 300 games, and my body some­times feel like it can’t even make it to 500,” Hertl said. “It’s amaz­ing how many games. He’s had some tough times the last cou­ple years and I’m re­ally happy for him. Hope­fully he en­joys it too.”

NHAT V. MEYER/TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

San Jose Sharks' Joe Thorn­ton (19) waits for a face-off against the Bos­ton Bru­ins on Feb. 19, 2017 in San Jose.

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