Team Canada’s Joe Thornton Still Going Strong at Age 37
Joe Thornton is, literally and figuratively, the greybeard on Canada’s World Cup roster.
If you look closely enough at the gnarly nest that dangles off his chin, you can spot the hints of grey.
And, at the tender age of 37 — with a long history of representing Canada on the world stage — he’s the elder statesman on the roster. Thornton holds a four-year edge on defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, the only other player who is back to help Canada defend its 2004 World Cup title.
“Winning,” Thornton offered up Tuesday, when asked about his fondest memories from a dozen years ago.
“We had such a good team. Mario (Lemieux) was on that team, Joe Sakic. It was just a great team, a good group of guys. We enjoyed ourselves off the ice. Winning was great and getting all those friendships was great, too.”
Of course, that was so long ago, Thornton was still playing for the Boston Bruins. Of that 2004 Canadian crew of forwards, only Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla and San Jose Sharks teammate Patrick Marleau are still playing in the NHL.
A year ago, it would have been a major surprise to see Thornton’s name on the World Cup team.
Then came the 2015-16 season when Thornton re-established himself as a premiere playmaker.
He finished with 63 assists and 82 points, tied with the Senators’ Erik Karlsson for fourth in regular season scoring. He followed that up with 21 points in 24 playoff games as the surprising Sharks advanced to the Stanley Cup final against Pittsburgh.
If he had been criticized for lacking playoff passion in the past, Thornton’s post-season performance re-opened what might have previously been a closed door. Thornton bypassed countless younger forwards to earn his spot.
“You don’t just get the job, you earn it,” said Canadian coach Mike Babcock.
In a game that seems to get younger and faster every year — there is genuine concern that the speed of the World Cup under-23 squad could cause their rivals fits — Thornton has managed to find the open spaces to keep pace.
For all that, Thornton says he wasn’t exactly sitting by the phone, waiting for the call that eventually came from Canadian general manager Doug Armstrong.
“I didn’t (think about it), at all,” said Thornton. “It was just one of those things where you just kind of play and don’t think about it … and then you get chosen. It was just day to day, a process, like everybody says, but I never thought about it, no.”
Thornton, who was drafted first overall by Boston in 1996 and represented Canada as an 18-year-old at the 1997 world junior championship, says he isn’t stressed by what has been or what might be in the future.
“I’ve been really good at just staying in the moment,” he said. “I think that’s what has helped me play so long. I just enjoy coming to the rink every day. I love seeing the guys. I still feel like I’m 24.”
One day, Thornton should find himself in the Hall of Fame, joining 2004 World Cup teammates Lemieux and Sakic, among others.
While winning the Stanley Cup has proven elusive, he will enter the 2016-17 season with 377 goals and 964 assists in 1,367 regular season games. He also won an Olympic gold with Canada in 2010.
Of course, he’s not ready for retirement just yet, joking about how many of his former Canadian teammates now hold down front-office positions around the NHL.
“Yeah, and I’m still here,” he said. “I’ve still got another 10 years, so maybe I will play in the next World Cup, too.”
Thornton does suggest that the current Canadian edition has plenty in common with the 2004 team.
The players have the ability to put their tense NHL rivalries on hold (for years, Thornton has gone head to head against Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings) and to swallow their pride to take on specific roles in the name of a common goal.
“It’s very similar,” Thornton said. “Just look around the room. There are so many studs, so many characters. It’s a very, very, similar team.”
With one notable difference. The 24-year-old kid on that team is now a 37-year-old man.
IT’S JUST A NUMBER
Check your ego at the dressing room door.
We’ve heard it several times in the opening couple of days at Canada’s World Cup training camp. In some cases, that also means checking your number at the door.
Take, for instance, New York Islanders star John Tavares.
Tavares, who sports No. 91 with the Islanders, is wearing No. 20 for Canada these days. The 91 was already taken by Tampa’s Steven Stamkos.
“I’ve worn it for Canada a number of times, so I guess they keep giving it back to me,” said Tavares, shrugging his shoulders about the digits on his back.
“I’m good with it. As long as I’ve got a sweater, what’s on the front is what’s most important and that’s what you care about.”
The “20” has no special significance to Tavares.
“The only ironic thing is that it’s the day of my birthday, so I’ll take it, I guess.”
Tavares turns 26 on Sept. 20.
As for Jonathan Toews, who is wearing 16, and Corey Perry, who is sporting 24, it’s about not messing with the success they had at the 2014 Olympics.
Toews wears 19 with the Chicago Blackhawks, but allowed Tyler Seguin to take that number with Canada.
Perry wears 10 with the Anaheim Ducks. There is no No. 10 on the Canadian roster.