When Chris Thorburn was drafted in the second round of the 2001 draft by the Buffalo Sabres, his career longevity probably wasn’t on the mind of fans and pundits. He only played two games with the Sabres before going to the Pittsburgh Penguins to play 36 games in 2006-2007. He had some success with the Rochester Americans and Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in the AHL, but his NHL career looked like he’d wind up a constant injury call-up at best. He was a depth guy.
In 2007, he was dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers for a third round pick, and Thorburn would spend the next eleven seasons with the franchise, bridging two cities. When he was finally let go from the Jets as an unrestricted free agent, he was picked up by the Blues as a depth forward and played 51 games with the team before being sent to the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage.
Thorburn was called up by the Blues to be one of the extra men on the playoff roster, and when the Blues won the Stanley Cup, David Perron made sure that Thorburn was one of the first players handed the Cup, even before active roster guys who played every playoff game.
What is there about Chris Thorburn that elicits such love from his teammates?
When Thorburn first came to the Blues, fans saw him as a replacement for Ryan Reaves, which he very clearly was not. Thorburn was a fourth line guy, and wouldn’t shy away from a scrap, but he wasn’t the fighter on the Jets. He wasn’t the fighter on the Thrashers’ Greek Gods line of Jim Slater, Thorburn, and Eric Boulton. He was a hitter, and he was a nose to the grindstone guy. He was a hard worker. He was locker-room glue.
I knew that getting Thorburn at the end of his career wouldn’t necessarily make the Blues a better team, especially not statistically. But I was very familiar with his leadership qualities and how much his teammates have always respected him. He was a “talk and they listen” guy in Atlanta. He was universally seen as a mentor regardless of where he was playing.
The Blues respected him so much that one of the reasons he was called up for the playoff ride was so he could continue to get medical treatment for his autistic son. Chris Thorburn took care of the kids in San Antonio without a single complaint. He helped guide younger players in St. Louis, and encouraged the roster regulars when things were less than ideal. He’s shown respect to every franchise he’s played with, and that’s been reciprocated in full.
Eight hundred and one NHL games and having the Stanley Cup handed to you to close out a career isn’t a bad way to go for someone who put his body on the line every night.
Two things come to mind whenever I think of Thorburn.
The first was watching him play, up close, during the Thrashers’ last two seasons in Atlanta. Season tickets were cheap (for obvious reasons) and mine were lower level on the defend once end of the arena, slightly askew from the goal. That gave me a chance to really be able to watch the team’s defense and goaltending - most nights, that was not a treat. One game in particular stands out to me - I can’t remember who the Thrashers were playing, but they were losing, and losing badly. Thorburn took a slap shot off of the shin during a shot block that made my whole section wince. He kept playing on one leg. He was glued to his man and thwarted every single clean shot attempt and passing attempt that guy tried to get off. He left at shift change to go to the locker room, and it took him ages to return - but he came back and finished the game.
The second thing that comes to mind are Thorburn’s media interviews after the Thrashers’ sale and pending relocation was made official. Most players vacillated between “yeah, this kind of sucks” to “I’m excited to play in Winnipeg” to Chris Mason’s “why yes, I would love to throw the city of Atlanta and their fans under the bus” interviews with Canadian media. Thorburn? He unloaded.
Thrashers forward Chris Thorburn on how Atlanta Spirit has handled the sale of the team. How do you feel about Atlanta Spirit and the way this has been handled? Keep it clean, Thrashers fans.Posted by Buck Lanford FOX 5 on Saturday, May 21, 2011
Just for owners to turn their backs on you, it kind of makes you mad. Obviously we don’t know every aspect of the deal and where they’re coming from. It hasn’t been publicly noted in the paper. From everything we’ve heard, from rumors that we’ve heard, it’s discouraging just knowing that they’re trying to dump us. That makes a guy mad.
Thorburn also went out of his way to defend Thrashers fans in several interviews, making it clear that he knew where the blame for the Thrashers’ failure needed to be placed.
That time as a Thrashers fan sucked. When you had a whole nation’s media laugh at you and question your existence and validity as sports fans, you got tired of being beaten up on a daily basis. To have a player stand up like Thorburn did was huge. He was a fourth liner. He wasn’t a superstar. His future career wasn’t a gimmie.
But there he was, speaking truth to power against an ownership group that was worth a hundred times what he was and maybe making the move to a new market tougher on himself than it needed to be.
Everyone has a fourth liner that they love. Blues fans especially have a soft spot for the blue collar guys that have filtered through the franchise over the years.
Chris Thorburn’s my fourth liner. His career couldn’t’ve ended on a more deserving note. He’s an example of what happens not just when you work hard, but when you combine that work ethic with a genuinely solid sense of responsibility.
Congrats on your retirement, Thorbs.