Bruins forward Shawn Thornton joined Dale & Holley on Friday to discuss Thursday night’s game against the Penguins and his fight with Matt Cooke.
Thornton gave Bruins fans a rare exciting moment in an otherwise lackluster 3-0 loss, getting some revenge on Cooke for his vicious hit on Marc Savard by challenging the Pittsburgh winger six seconds after he hit the ice and winning the fight decisively. “I wish the fight had gone on a little longer and I could have knocked him out, but it didn’t happen unfortunately,” Thornton said. “But it was addressed and I think that was the biggest thing. He didn’t have to fight me and he did, and I think that put some water on the fire.”
Thornton talked about how he came to earn his reputation as a tough guy for the Bruins, starting with his role in juniors. “I’d played defense my whole life, but they said I had to play winger and play this role if you want to play on this team, and I would do whatever it takes,” he said. “My first seasons as a pro it was kind of the same thing — be a seventh defenseman, extra forward — but you have to do whatever it takes. And look where I am now — a great city, a nice condo and playing in front of 17,000 people every night.”
He also addressed the fans’ reaction to the Bruins play. Those fans who were at TD Garden were not pleased about the outcome of the game vs. the Penguins and resorted to booing the Bruins. Thornton said that he had “no answer for the lack of energy” despite a pumped-up crowd, particularly after his fight. He also added that he understands the fans’ frustrations. “I understand it; I know people are pissed,” Thornton said. “I walk around Charlestown and people aren’t afraid to tell you, which is great that they are so passionate. I hope my teammates are aware of it. … You’d have to ask them [what they've heard], I’m really not sure.”
A full transcript of the interview is below. To listen, click here.
Fans were pretty upset last night, and I must say I don’t blame the ones that booed.
I don’t either. I really don’t.
Last night before the game we were all anticipating a fight with Matt Cooke. When did you know that was what you were going to do? When did you say to yourself, “This is my job.”
Ah, 13 years ago I guess. It’s kind of always been my job. Not saying that we don’t have other guys that are more than capable, but I kind of like to take the responsibility myself.
You guys have been called out the last few weeks for not doing anything at the time of the hit. Did you have a problem with the response to the initial hit in Pittsburgh?
Yeah. I think I’ve said that before and I think other people in the organization have said that too. I think the response had to be immediate. It couldn’t happen after the immediate hit because with the way the rules are set up now — instigators and all the fines and everything else — it would have to be right away. It happened very quickly and the refs got in there quick, and I don’t know how many guys got to see it. I didn’t see it and I was sitting on the bench, because I was following the puck. But it’s been addressed now. I tried to address it last night right away so we could try to move on and win the hockey game, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.
Have you ever had a teammate you wouldn’t fight for?
No. My team is my second family, so there has never been anyone I wouldn’t fight for.
Zdeno Chara challenged Mike Rupp to a fight. Right after he spoke to the bench, and he said after the game he was calling out his guys. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anyone respond.
I agree. And I’m not making excuses for anyone, but unfortunately we had a penalty 17 seconds later and that kind of took the wind out of the sails for the momentum that Z tried to create. Usually I would be really pissed at the guy who took that penalty, but it is Mark Stuart, who has kind of been the heart and soul of our team for the last little bit. And it wasn’t intentional on his part and he works his tail off every single night and gives us everything he has. It was bad timing, but it definitely wasn’t intentional and it wasn’t on purpose for him to take away that momentum. But even after the penalty was killed — you can build off a penalty kill — but Z was still in the box and we just didn’t bring the emotion or energy.
I thought last night the fans brought a tremendous amount of passion, energy and excitement. Why don’t you think the team able to take that and carry that into throughout the entire game?
I don’t know. In my opinion, after my fight it was probably the loudest the place has ever been other than Game 6 against Montreal a couple years ago. I have no answer for the lack of energy other than guys being sick, but that is not an excuse for anything — I’m just saying some guys were under the weather. But the guys who weren’t sick could have played better too.
Do you think Matt Cooke got off easily last night? You kicked his butt, but do you think he was able to skate a little freer than you and your teammates would’ve liked?
I think so. I don’t know how much he played last night, I think it was a little less than normal and he was sort of walking on egg shells the entire night. I didn’t see him finish too many checks like he usually does. I mean, hey, we all wanted to see blood but it doesn’t happen like that anymore. It’s not the ’70s. Sometimes I wish it was and I wish the fight had gone on a little longer and I could have knocked him out, but it didn’t happen unfortunately. But it was addressed and I think that was the biggest thing. He didn’t have to fight me and he did, and I think that put some water on the fire. I said that last night but I think it’s true.
I’m so glad you said that about the fight going on longer.
Yeah, if the refs hadn’t jumped in there it might have. But once they get in there it is hard to keep things going.
I have tremendous respect for people who do what you do for a living. I have zero respect for people who play like Matt Cooke does. But I will give him credit because I thought he would turtle when you challenged him and he did not.
No, and I think being on the other side with that whole Vancouver thing and seeing what can transpire if the person doesn’t step up with the right person. People can get hurt and there can be lawsuit and a lot of stuff nowadays. I’m with you, I don’t respect people that play the game the wrong way. I think that is probably evident from me throwing punches when he was down on his knees, because I don’t ever do that. I have to give him credit for stepping up and trying to take one on the side of the head for his team because it could have got a lot uglier for guys who probably didn’t deserve it.
Shawn, with 12 games left you have a three point lead over the New York Rangers. What have you seen from your team so far that would lead you to believe that if you get into the playoff you can make a run there?
The lack of consistency so far I suppose is concerning, but when we go in and play games like we did in Philly a week ago you see how good the team can be when everyone is going. We need everyone going. I think in the playoffs — if we get in the playoffs or when we get in the playoffs — I’m assuming everyone will come to play every night and we are a really good team when everyone comes to play.
Shawn, what was your plan if Matt Cooke hadn’t taken the bait for a fight?
You know, I didn’t really have any other plan. I didn’t know if I would be on the ice with him for the first shift, but it happened to work out that way. And I think it worked out for the best for everybody involved.
How did you get to the point where you had 179 fights? How did you get to the stage where you were the guy who is expected to fight? I’m sure you didn’t think, “This is why I am getting into professional hockey.”
No. I guess it started in junior. I didn’t want to go back to working in a steel mill. … I knew this was part of the game that kind of came naturally to me and I’ve always been the kind of guy who would stick up for my teammates even when I was younger and that wasn’t my role. I went to junior and that was kind of the role that was needed. I’d played defense my whole life but they said I had to play winger and play this role if you want to play on this team, and I would do whatever it takes. My first seasons as a pro it was kind of the same thing — be a seventh defenseman, extra forward—but you have to do whatever it takes. And look where I am now—a great city, a nice condo and playing in front of 17,000 people every night. Yeah, the job sucks some nights when you know you are going to get your head punched in, but in the grand scheme of things it is pretty good. So I’ve got no problem doing it.
How many times has your nose been broken?
I don’t know. I don’t even check anymore.
Too many to count?
Not that many, but I honestly couldn’t give you a legitimate number. I’m sure it has been broken a couple of times and I didn’t bother to get it checked.
What did you say to [Cooke], and how did he respond? Because it looked like you asked him if he wanted to take his helmet off.
Yeah, I did. We squared off and he said no, but that is OK. I understand that too. They put mandatory visors in the AHL and when I was down there for 15 games I think I fought five or six times and I had to take off my helmet those five or six times. Those visors aren’t a big deal as far as the fight goes. Those helmets come off and someone hits their head on the ice, that is a lot scarier than getting a hand in a visor. I really spoke out when I was in the AHL about not having visors for guys like me because I think it was a lot more dangerous when you are grabbing guys who are 6-foot-5, 240 pounds to hit your head on the ice than for him to hit his hand on your visor or me to hit it on his visor. It doesn’t really matter either way, I was just asking him what he wanted to do. I didn’t care either way. It is not hard to get the helmet off anyway when you are bigger than someone.
And you did.
Yes, I did.
Shawn, who is the best fighter you have seen at any level and who kind of taught you the tricks of the trade?
I had a couple of people along the way. When I was younger it was a guy named Lionel Engelton. There was a little bit of boxing and that kind of stuff, but it was more the mental aspect — being ready to go and not having to be so emotional to get involved. Just trying to convince yourself that if you are in better condition than most people you will be all set. The last few years in Boston I’ve been training at The Ring during the summers with a guy named Tom McInerney. I got in there two or three times a week and he does it all out of the goodness of his heart; he won’t even let me pay him. I think those two people have really helped me for off-ice condition. I try to train to be a hockey player to tell you the truth, the other stuff is just kind of fun. And like I said, I haven’t trained to be a fighter, it just kind of comes naturally to me. I knew what my role was and sometimes I had to think about it the day before if I knew what was going to happen. But I’ve always been really good at it.
You’ve elected to stay here almost year round. So you probably have a better grasp of the feelings of Bruins nation. Do you think your team understands how upset Bruins fans are right now?
I hope so. I really do. I love being here. I enjoy this city immensely and I feel pretty confident saying it is home now. I understand it; I know people are pissed. I walk around Charlestown and people aren’t afraid to tell you, which is great that they are so passionate. I hope my teammates are aware of it. You’d have to ask them, I’m really not sure.
What have you heard today?
Well, most people have just said good job for punching that guys lights out.
Well, it was the only reason to cheer last night. You did your job.
Yeah, I guess it is my job, but our line is playing OK minutes but we are not scoring. So, yes, my job is to protect my guy but I we could chip in a little more too and not rely on the same six guys to get us points every night. So, yeah, I did that part of my job but I think I could contribute a little bit more and our whole line could do a little more.
You said something to Cooke after the fight. Did you expect to be back on the ice with him later?
I did not say anything. He was talking, I was just looking. And one of their tough guys said, “It is over now, that’s it. Next time you have to fight me.” And then I just kind of skated off.
I’m guessing that was Rupp, and I kind of respect that, too.
Definitely. I’ve fought both of their tough guys a few times — Rupp just once but [Eric] Godard a few times. They are very respectful of the game and the code which people talk about every now and again. So, they are very honest players and they go about the game the right way, in my opinion.