The Bruins’ tough guy has set new career-highs with nine goals and 18 points this season, but that won’t exactly get him in the Hart Trophy conversation. He’s a rare enforcer who can be trusted to play a regular shift in a tight game, but he won’t be challenging for any Selke Trophies either. And the Lady Byng? That’s not gonna happen.
But Thornton is up for an award this year, one he very much deserves to be considered for. The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association announced Monday that its Boston chapter has made Thornton its nominee for the Masterton Trophy this year.
This trophy is awarded each year to the “player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey,” with one player from each team nominated.
The award, which was first presented in 1968 to honor Bill Masterton, who died that January from a head injury suffered in a game while playing for the Minnesota North Stars, has morphed into almost a comeback player award with players overcoming devastating injuries or illness winning most of the recent Mastertons. But the PHWA has tried to stress that the Masterton Trophy isn’t just about overcoming injuries, but also about players conducting themselves with class on and off the ice and giving back to the community.
Thornton certainly fits that profile. Last year’s winner of the club’s Johnny Bucyk Award for his community work, Thornton has become a fixture in the local community while living year-round in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown. Last summer he organized the first annual Putts and Punches for Parkinson’s golf tournament to raise money for the American Parkinson Disease Association. He’s also one of the driving forces behind the annual Cuts for A Cause charity event, in which fans can bid for the privilege of shaving the heads of participating Bruins with proceeds going to the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.
Thornton’s perseverance and dedication can’t be questioned. He refused to give up on his NHL dream even after spending four seasons in the Toronto organization without ever getting a sniff of the NHL after being drafted in the seventh round in 1997. Another five years with the Blackhawks yielded just 31 games in the NHL between the endless bus trips around the AHL. Thornton finally got his break with Anaheim, splitting the 2006-07 season between the Ducks and their AHL affiliate in Portland and playing 15 postseason contests to earn a Stanley Cup ring.
He came to Boston the following year and has developed into a key leader on and off the ice, honing his skills as a player without ever abandoning the physical style of play that got him to the league. That style could bring some question to the sportsmanship aspect of the Masterton criteria, as Thornton does pile up penalty minutes and is more than willing to drop the gloves.
But he’s also one of the strictest adherents to hockey’s unwritten “code,” an honest player almost to a fault who will always stand up for a teammate but seldom cross the line to instigate anything himself.
The Bruins have had four Masterton winners, with Charlie Simmer (1985-86), Gord Kluzak (1989-90), Cam Neely (1993-94) and Phil Kessel (2006-07) taking home the trophy. Thornton is a long shot to make it five this year, but he’s been a long shot to do just about everything he’s accomplished in the NHL and is certainly worthy of our Boston chapter’s nomination.