Thorn­ton’s love for hockey leads him to re­mark­able mile­stone

Thorn­ton will play in his 1500th ca­reer NHL game tonight in Dal­las

Marysville Appeal-Democrat - - SPORTS - By Curtis Pashelka The Mercury News (TNS)

SAN JOSE – Both Mar­cus Sorensen and Bar­clay Goodrow were still in awe.

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’ 4-3 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, will be­come the 19th player in NHL his­tory to play in 1,500 games Thurs­day when the Sharks visit the Dal­las Stars to start a quick two-game road trip. In 20-plus sea­sons, he’s played 967 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 then-team­mate 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 help make the huge task of com­ing back worth­while.

It also demon­strated Sharks cen­ter Joe Thorn­ton, left, talks to Erik Karls­son, right, dur­ing prac­tice at So­lar4amer­ica Ice in San Jose dur­ing train­ing camp in Septem­ber.

that he can still be an ef­fec­tive player in a league that is get­ting faster by the sea­son.

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 pretty re­mark­able.”

Thorn­ton is not nec­es­sar­ily big on cel­e­brat­ing in­di­vid­ual mile­stone achieve­ments.

As he was on the cusp of 1,000 ca­reer as­sists in Feb. 2017, join­ing 12 other play­ers who have ac­com­plished that feat, in­clud­ing his idol, Wayne Gret­zky, Thorn­ton said, in a mat­terof-fact fash­ion, “I think when it ar­rives, it’ll ar­rive.”

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

Those around him ap­pre­ci­ate it right now.

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