When Chris Thorburn signed with the St. Louis Blues before the 2017-18 season, I immediately coined him “Hockey Jesus.”
Think about it. All it takes is a quick glance to recognize this guy may have died on the cross for an extra shift or two. In a way, the Blues signed him to not replace the departed Ryan Reaves as a complete player, but to retain the fighter aspect lost in the trade that helped the team snag Klim Kostin.
Thorburn would only score a goal and put up seven points that season, playing in parts of 50 games. The two year deal he signed was also a two way street, and the Blues executed that option before the 2018-19 season began, sending him to San Antonio. This was after Thorburn and his family moved to St. Louis and settled in. The tragic arena of sports often undetected is the spur-of-the-moment transaction that uproots a family.
The Thorburn family stayed in St. Louis while Chris traveled with the Rampage. What would have been an unsettling situation was made more fluid by the treatment the Blues gave Thorburn. He was able to come back and visit throughout the season, and when the playoffs began in April, the team brought him along, which gave him NHL insurance to pay for the meds that his son, who was diagnosed with autism, needed.
Let me just say this. I didn’t like the Thorburn acquisition at first, but it grew on me, but I wouldn’t say it had much to do with hockey. I mean, the former 50th overall draft pick put up 19 points with Buffalo back in 2010-11, but no one would call him a threat on the ice. A threat to place his fist through a face for sure, but not a scoreboard threat.
I fell in love with the Thorburn story, because I have a soft spot for fighters. Let’s face it. The NHL is phasing out the enforcer role. Look at the Blues, who employed Pat Maroon to drop the gloves every once in a while to display his sheriff badge in a tussle. Thorburn was a dying breed before he got to St. Louis, but quickly became a commodity on the team due to his personality, dedication to the team, and the person he was on and off the ice.
He’s the epitome of why people love sports. The nobody who many haven’t heard of gets your attention, keeps it, struggles to stay afloat, catches a break, and finds a way. I remember one of the playoff videos of the boys coming into the locker room, and the camera basically followed Thorburn around as he congratulated the team. All the players lit up when they saw him, especially Jay Bouwmeester. They hugged, embraced, and it was a moment.
I don’t think most teams would have treated Thorburn as well as the Blues did. I don’t know for sure, but I could bet on it. They didn’t have to show the level of decency they did when the young talent on their team required a deeper look on the active roster. It could have been a quick transaction. After all, Thorburn was still getting paid the rest of that $1.8 million contract. Still, the team went all the way in treating the player with respect and caring deeply about his situation.
This wasn’t Vladimir Tarasenko, Vince Dunn, or Robert Thomas. This was a guy who hustled to play on the fourth line and garner eight minutes of ice time. I’m blown away by that.
Other writers have put up better stories about this guy. The Athletic and St. Louis Post-Dispatch among them. But I’ve never let that determine if I choose to write about something. I come to this page, or other pages, when I need to write something. The Chris Thorburn story needs to be written a lot, so people can see the humility of a franchise.
There he was. The third guy to hoist the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night. A guy who played ONE game this entire year, both regular and postseason. A player who was important in many ways to this magical team.
Now that’s an amazing story.
Chris Thorburn came to the Blues as “Hockey Jesus,” but he turned into something even bigger. A great story.