Joe Thornton’s reputation preceded him upon his arrival to the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. The St. Thomas, Ontario native is viewed among the best forwards of the 21st century and among the game’s greatest ever playmakers. Now, in his 23rd NHL season after eight with the Boston Bruins and 15 with the San Jose Sharks, Thornton has amassed an Art Ross Trophy, a Hart Trophy, along with two World Cup championships and an Olympic gold medal. His 1098 career assists put him seventh on the NHL’s all-time list. It’s as safe a bet as any that he’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
But perhaps more than anything else, Thornton is widely known as one of hockey’s all-time personalities. You’d be hard-pressed to find a teammate, coach, or anyone who’s been around Thornton to give anything less than glowing praise for his dressing-room presence and good-natured charm.
"Pure, unadulterated passion and love for the game,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson told to theScore in 2019. “I've been in the business for 40 years, and I've never been around anybody like that."
"Magnetic personality," said Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer. "You want to find him in the morning, really, because after a bad game he energizes you, always in a positive way. There's no bad days at the rink for Joe."
It’s this kind of regard for Thornton’s off-ice contributions that made him a no-brainer addition for the Leafs, even if he’s no longer the point producer he was in his prime.
And it’s not only hockey people with whom Thornton leaves a great impression. AJ Sports had the opportunity to do a signing with him now that he’s in Toronto, and all involved gave nothing but rave reviews.
Justin Gallow, now managing the AJ Sports store on Castlefield Road in Toronto with longtime manager Dan Kubin opening a brand-new store in Woodbridge, was able to meet Thornton during the signing.
“The Joe Thornton signing was one of my first signings, and since I grew up being a fan of his on the ice, I was a little nervous,” Gallow said. “But he came to the signing and was a really good guy. Being able to talk hockey with one of my favourite players growing up while he was signing the product made it memorable.”
For all of Thornton’s on-ice accolades and off-ice admiration, there’s just one thing that has eluded him so far in his four-decade spanning career: a Stanley Cup. With the Maple Leafs currently leading the Scotia North division and tied for second league-wide, there’s optimism Thornton can capture his first championship in the twilight of his playing days with a new team, much like Ray Bourque did with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001.
Thornton finally winning the Cup in his 23rd season would certainly make for a storybook ending, and it’s one that Gallow, along with every other Thornton fan, is hoping for.
“I was always a fan of Thornton growing up,” he said. “Meeting him in person and knowing the passion he has for the game has made me root for him even more. I would love to see him win a Cup this year rocking the blue and white.”
By Ryan Cuneo