BOSTON – The love between Shawn Thornton and the Boston Bruins has always been there.
Even when the Florida Panthers signed him three years ago when it was clear the longtime NHL enforcer’s Boston career had come to a close, and even when Thornton showed up to subsequent B’s captain’s practices decked out head-to-toe in red Panthers gear, the genuine connection between the hard-nosed winger and the Black and Gold was never too distant.
So there were emotions on sleeves on Saturday afternoon as the 39-year-old Thornton played his final game at TD Garden as a member of the Panthers in a 5-2 loss to the Bruins. Panthers head coach Tom Rowe put Thornton in the Florida starting lineup to the delight of the Garden crowd, and he was named the No. 3 Star of the game by the 98.5 the Sports Hub radio broadcast team.
He was also greeted by some of his former Bruins teammates immediately after the game while taking one last Garden lap as the No. 3 Star, and that’s when it hit home emotionally for the two-time Stanley Cup champion.
“[It was] definitely a little emotional. It didn’t really sink in until Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] came over and said he loved me and then it was very nice of [the media] for the third star, I appreciate that, you know? Getting that and people sticking around and applauding me when I came out,” said Thornton, who played in his 700th NHL game with Florida earlier this season as he moves toward NHL retirement at the end of this season. “That’s probably the closest I have been to getting choked up in a bit so, I mean, it’s emotional but I had a good run. No regrets, no complaints. I’m very happy with my career.”
It was pure class from his former teammates after the game as well with Zdeno Chara giving Thornton a big hug in the Florida dressing room following the game in the last little bit of closure. The former B’s enforcer has held onto his property in Charlestown so he won’t ever be that far from Boston, but he’s already lined up a job on the business/community relations side of the organization with the Panthers once this season concludes his NHL career.
But a piece of his heart will always be in Boston no matter his future endeavors take him in the hockey world.
From day one I think the fans here really embraced me and it felt like home right away. I think that there are not a lot of places that you go and you become that welcome,” said Thornton. “I tried to give back as much as I could to let them know that I appreciate it. It’s still home and I still have really fond memories here. It’s not easy saying it’s the last one in here, but I’m very happy with all the time I had in here.
“Cam [Neely] called me on that July 1 [when he signed with Boston] and there were a few other teams that were interested, and he kind of sold it. The players that are kind of molded like myself, they become fan favorites in this town, and it was above and beyond what I even expected. I had never really been in here before, I signed here 10 years ago and it was maybe the understatement of the year. People honestly were unbelievable to me, the way I’ve been treated and the support for the foundation. Everything has been amazing.”