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Looking back and ahead: Shawn Thornton 05.21.12 at 6:32 pm ET
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With the Bruins’ season in the books, WEEI.com will take a look at each player on the roster one-by-one to provide some perspective on what went wrong this season and what the future holds for the 2011 champions.

Shawn Thornton signed a two-year extension to stay with the B's during the season. (AP)

Shawn Thornton

Age: 34

2011-12 stats: 81 games played, 5 goals, 8 assists, 13 points, minus-7

Contract status: signed through 2013-14 season ($1.1 million cap hit)

Looking back: The Bruins’ fourth-line enforcer was coming off a career year (10 goals, 10 assists) as he entered the 2011-12 season, and he returned with his usual linemates of Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell.

Thornton’s offensive production wasn’t nearly what it was a season ago, but after failing to reach the 10 goal plateau until he was 33, the expectation wasn’t exactly for him to produce 10 goals a season. The expectation for him was to serve his role as a fourth-line energy player and to drop the gloves to help swing the game’s momentum in the Bruins’ favor. In the case of the latter, Thornton came through big time, tying Brandon Prust for the league lead in fighting majors with 20.

Thornton dropped the gloves with many of his common dance partners this season (Eric Boulton, whom he fought for the eighth time in his career, Krys Barch twice, Jody Shelly, etc.), but one of the Bruins heavyweight’s more interesting bouts of the season came when he squared off with former longtime Bruin Mark Stuart on Jan. 10 after the Jets defenseman threw him down at the end of a play. Thornton won the battle of similarly sized former teammates in a game the Bruins would go on to win.

When the playoffs rolled around, the Bruins were forced to scratch Thornton in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Capitals. The scratch was more out of necessity than performance, as the B’s needed to get Jordan Caron into the lineup in case the injured Patrice Bergeron had to leave either of the two final games.

Looking ahead: Thornton was one of many Bruins set to become unrestricted free agents in the offseason, but the team took care of him by giving him a two-year extension worth $1.1 million annually.

While it is far from big money and keeps him as one of the Bruins’ lowest-paid players, Thornton’s new pact means that for the first time in his career, he will be paid at least $1 million in a season for the first time in his career. He made $800,000 last season and $825,000 in 2010-11 as part of a two-year deal that had an $812,500 cap hit and $25,000 signing bonus.

While anything close to a repeat of Thornton’s 2010-11 season offensively would be a pleasant surprise for the Bruins and make him a steal at his cost, the B’s shouldn’t be counting on Thornton to be a source of scoring. They should count on him to police the ice, get shots on net and keep the puck in the offensive zone. If history is any indication, he shouldn’t let them down. What you’ve seen is what you’re likely to get with Shawn Thornton.

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Will Bruins go with Jordan Caron or Shawn Thornton in Game 7? 04.25.12 at 1:28 pm ET
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Jordan Caron played 4:56 in Game 6. (AP)

Shawn Thornton or Jordan Caron?

That’s the question that Bruins coach Claude Julien faces going into the most important game of the season. Caron played in his first career postseason game Sunday when Julien called his number for Game 6.

“I was waiting for that for a little while, so I was pretty happy when Claude told me I was going to play,” Caron said. “It went well, so I was pretty happy with it.”

Julien had been saying throughout the series that he was keeping Caron in mind when it came to Boston’s lineup. When Patrice Bergeron had to leave Game 5 but was healthy enough to go in Game 6, the B’s went with Caron, presumably because he could play on the second line if anything were to happen to the Selke finalist.

On Wednesday, Bergeron was on the ice for morning skate but did not take faceoffs. That means that he’s still banged up a little bit, something that could have been assumed when No. 37 wasn’t on the ice in Tuesday’s practice.

Julien has confirmed multiple times that Bergeron will be in the lineup in Game 7, but if his status is still even the least bit shaky, the team could elect to keep Caron in and Thornton out. Another option is to play Thornton anyway, and if anything happens to Bergeron the team could explore putting Brian Rolston on right wing of the line with Rich Peverley at center.

With Caron unsure of his status, he’s had to do something he’s done a lot of over the last two seasons: prepare as though he’s playing and hope for the best.

“I think a lot of it is mentally. You just need to prepare,” he said. “You don’t know if you’re playing or not, so I think you’ve just got to be ready to jump in and do your job.”

Said Julien: “We talked to him before the series started, because I thought if anything, he was a real good player for us in that last stretch of the regular season. It was tough to take him out [before the playoffs] but we went with some experienced guys, first and foremost. The one thing that we said to him – we said you’ve got to stay ready because there’s going to come a point where we’re going to need you and obviously we did last game.”

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Shawn Thornton contributes to Bruins whether or not he’s playing 04.24.12 at 4:13 pm ET
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Shawn Thornton has always had a team-first attitude. (AP)

WILMINGTON — Shawn Thornton embodies what the Bruins are all about in so many ways, but will he be in the lineup in the biggest game of the season?

Boston had to scratch Thornton in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals due to Patrice Bergeron‘s situation. With Bergeron clearly not 100 percent, Claude Julien had to insert Jordan Caron — a good two-way forward with some experience as a top-six guy — into the lineup in case anything happened to Bergeron during the game. That meant, as was the case when Tyler Seguin heated up in the third round against the Lightning, that Thornton had to sit.

Now, with Bergeron definitely in the Bruins’ lineup for Wednesday’s Game 7, it is unknown whether he will be healthy enough for the B’s to run the risk of going without Caron. Thornton doesn’t know his status, but the veteran isn’t complaining.

“This is my 15th year,” Thornton said. “I’ve been through this a number of times. I don’t know how many playoff games, but I will stay ready for when I’m called upon, whether it’s next game, or whenever it may be. If it’s not next game, then I’ll do whatever I can to support my teammates.”

Last year, a concussion to Bergeron led to Seguin jumping into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the first two rounds. Seguin scored three goals in the two games the team was without Bergeron, so he remained in the lineup and Thornton was scratched. Seguin looks back on it all and remembers Thornton remaining supportive of him even after the rookie took the veteran leader’s spot in the lineup.

“Thorty’s a great team guy,” Seguin said. “He was the guy that definitely helped me align the way all last year. It doesn’t matter what role he’s doing for the team, he’s always going to be doing whatever he can to help the team out and help us be successful.”

If Thornton’s in the lineup for Wednesday, the B’s will know what they’re getting from the energetic forward. After all, it was a shift by the fourth line — Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille – that started to swing the momentum for the Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals last June after the Canucks took it to the B’s in the early going.

Should Thornton not play, the team will still rely on what he brings in the dressing room as a vocal leader. Regardless of whether he’s in the lineup, he always has something to give the Bruins.

” We appreciate him as a player first and foremost and as a person, but what he does when he drops the gloves is something that is part of his strength,” Julien said. “Sometimes a coach has to make decisions. It’s nothing personal, it’s nothing about necessarily the player’s [experience], it’s what we need for this certain game and that’s all it was.

“He understands that stuff. He’s been through it many times, even before he came here. He’s all about the team and whatever we need to do he’s going to support us. He’s as happy as today as he was the day before he got pulled out of the lineup.”

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Gregory Campbell on Game 7: ‘It’s where big players show up’ at 11:20 am ET
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Big players show up in big games.

It’s one of the time-tested adages used to describe Game 7.

But early on in those winner-take-all contests, it can sometimes be a bit player, or two, or three, who give the stars time to get their legs under them.

Certainly, that was the case in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals last June when Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton all came out guns blazing in the opening minutes, taking the play to the Canucks and setting the tempo so that the Sedin twins couldn’t get going.

“I think it’s important to really play on your toes,” Campbell said. “With a line ours, that’s our job, is to provide that energy, so in situations like Game 7, if you’re a little bit tentative, it’s usually not going to serve you well. We’re a high energy line, high energy players. In situations like Game 7, every play matters so much, there’s so much pressure on every play, it’s best almost better not to think and just use your instincts and that’s what we try to do.”

That’s what they did in Game 5 against the Caps on Saturday, when Thornton threw his weight around in the offensive zone with a couple of heavy forechecks. Moments later, the Bruins had goals 28 seconds apart to tie the game.

“I think for Game 7s, what I’ve learned so far in my short playoff career, it’s got to be a balance,” Campbell said. “You have to be ready. Game 7s are usually the most intense game obviously, because everything’s on the line. You have to control your emotions. You have to walk that line where you’re ready to go, your energy and enthusiasm is high. But if you can make plays under pressure obviously, it’s a pressure-packed situation. It’s usually the team that can make those plays and perform under pressure is the team that wins.

“Execute the game plan. It’s one thing to be excited and rightfully so, it is an exciting time of year. It doesn’t get any better than Game 7, whether it’s the first round or the finals. It’s where big players show up and to be a big player in Game 7 you have to have that balance of energy and excitement mixed with poise and confidence and be able to execute plays.”

Now, the Bruins have Game 7 on their home ice for the third time in their last four winner-take-all contests. Does it matter to Campbell and the Bruins?

“It’s something we work hard for all year long and I think you have to put some importance on having home ice advantage and working hard for it,” Campbell said. “I guess Game 7s, they’re something we as a team like. We keep putting ourselves in that situation. They’re fun to play in. Obviously, the stakes are pretty high and it comes down to a one-game series. We have to be as prepared as possible. It’s been a close series so far and we expect nothing but the same for Game 7.”

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Shawn Thornton again takes one for the team 04.23.12 at 5:37 pm ET
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Shawn Thornton has always been willing to fight for playoff playing time. (AP)

Shawn Thornton made his way out of the Bruins dressing room Monday just before reporters were allowed in. And that’s probably a good thing since he had to take one for the team on Sunday in the crucial Game 6.

With Patrice Bergeron ailing and his status uncertain, Claude Julien had to dress another skilled forward capable of carrying the play on the top two lines if needed. Jordan Caron was called upon for the first time in the series. But that meant someone had to sit. And just like Thornton sat to make room for Tyler Seguin after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning last spring, Thornton was again asked to take a seat on Sunday to make room for Caron if Bergeron wasn’t 100 percent.

“Well, it certainly wasn’t related to play,” Claude Julien said Monday when asked about his reasoning. “It was related to a decision I had to make just before the game. Those are – hard for me to give you that reason right now because it would probably open up a can of worms, so I’m going to leave it at that. It’s certainly not because of Thornton’s play; it’s because of necessity.”

Certainly not. Julien is well aware of the positive impact Thornton has had on his this team in their Stanley Cup run and in being an energy force on Saturday when the team was down 2-0. He delivered a pair of heavy forechecks in the Capitals zone and less than a minute later Brad Marchand was on the ice delivering the first of two goals in 28 seconds to tie the game late in the second period.

And remember, after Horton was knocked out of the Cup finals by Aaron Rome in Game 3, Thornton returned for Game 4 and was part of the “Merlot” energy line that carried play in the opening minutes of Game 7 against the Canucks last spring while the starters got their legs under them. Marchand scored two goals in that game and Thornton was again a force to be reckoned with. Don’t count him out for Game 7 on Wednesday either – if he gets the chance to play.

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Chemistry, Class: Gregory Campbell happy to see Shawn Thornton sticking around 03.19.12 at 2:33 pm ET
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Defensemen have defensive partners and forwards have linemates, but if there was such a term as “offensive partner,” it would describe Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton‘s roles.

Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton have played together since Campbell arrived in Boston. (AP)

Thornton, who was given a two-year contract extension over the weekend, has certainly left his mark on Campbell’s career, and Campbell knows it. The veteran center came to Boston as part of the Nathan Horton trade after playing the first six seasons of his career with the Panthers. He played on different lines in his time in Florida, but when he came to Boston, he established something with Thornton that has kept the two together from Day 1. He’d never been essentially tied to another player the way he is with Thornton, and he’s proud to be one third of one of the best fourth lines in the NHL. To him, Thornton makes that possible.

“No. I mean, no,” Campbell said when asked whether he had played with anyone in Florida as much as he’s played with Thornton. “I played with Radek Dvorak I think maybe for two years, but not as constantly as almost on a shift-by-shift basis with Thorty.

“It’s a role that I’m happy to play and he’s happy to play, as part of the depth on this team. It’s not too often that you throw out four lines, and obviously he’s a big part of the fourth line, and his role is interchanging all the time. I think that that position, that … combination in the league is not very common any more, where you have a guy that’s obviously very physical and can fight, but that can play. That’s why he’s valued so much.”

Likely due to the fact that his extension has yet to be announced by the team, the always-accessible Thornton was not available to the media. With Thornton not present to speak, it’s no surprise Campbell was happy to share his delight with the news that the veteran enforcer will be sticking around for two more seasons.

“When your play against Thorty, it’s evident to see that he’s a hard-working guy, but once you’re on his team, you realize how important he is to the team, not only on the ice but off the ice [with] the leadership that he brings and the professionalism that he has every day. He has a hard job,” Campbell said. “I mean, there’s not too many guys in the league that can do what he does physically and also contribute not he score sheet once in a while. He’s a good player. I think he’s a real big part of this team, and it obviously shows with them giving him [a new contract].”

The Merlot Line, as Thornton dubbed it based on its burgundy-colored practice jerseys, has consisted of Thornton, Campbell and someone else for the last two seasons. Brad Marchand started on the trio before moving on to bigger and better things with Patrice Bergeron, and Daniel Paille took over from there.

While many teams don’t give significant minutes to fourth-liners, it was the Merlot Line that changed the momentum of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, as the trio of Campbell, Thornton and Paille turned in a big shift that broke up a much stronger start from the Canucks.

When Paille was hurt earlier this month against the Islanders, the B’s had to play defenseman Mike Mottau with Campbell and Thornton. The chemistry developed between the two is so strong that almost anyone could play on that other wing and it will work.

“I think we take pride in our job and our role,” Campbell said. “Sometimes it changes, depending on the game or whatever it may be. I think Thorty and I just have to be a reliable pair, whether there’s injuries or whatnot, we’ve been fortunate enough to be in the lineup for this long, and not being injured or whatever. I think it’s important for us to be that solid pair that can be relied up upon by the coaches and play different roles.”

As the Bruins have slowly shortened their list of free-agents to be, Campbell has seen his teammates get their new deals one by one. Whether or not his comes next remains to be seen, but Campbell doesn’t want to leave.

“Of course it’s where I want to be,” he said with a laugh as if to dismiss the notion of anything else. “This is a great place to play, a great organization and a successful one. Every player wants to play where they’ve had success and there’s more success to come. The important thing now for us, it’s really nice to see those guys get those extensions … but the important thing is focusing on playing and not the other stuff.”

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Bruins taking ‘baby steps’ in right direction toward playoffs 03.09.12 at 11:49 am ET
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The mere suggestion by the toughest Bruin evokes laughter.

But when Shawn Thornton said the Bruins are starting to take “baby steps” in the right direction following the team’s 3-1 win over the Sabres Thursday night, he was making no joke.

“I’m more concerned about how we are playing,” Thornton said. “I think that Rangers game we could have very easily won. I think the way we have been playing for the last week or so is the style of play you’re used to seeing from us. As long as we keep putting up efforts and everyone is showing up every night, the wins will come with those performances.”

The inability to win back-to-back games had become a sort of unintentional comedic relief for the Bruins as they grind toward the playoffs, wondering how they’re going to cope without Tuukka Rask for at least a month and how they’re going to position themselves as they get ready for a title defense.

“It seems to be for a lot of people, and I think it’s the same for us,” Claude Julien said after the 3-1 win over the Sabres, giving the Bruins consecutive wins for the first time since early January. “We’ve been obviously battling with our consistency, and even though this is our first back-to-back win in a long time, I think the fact I was encouraged by our play in New York and it’s just kept coming along in the next game.

“Obviously winning, and then again tonight a pretty decent effort. I think that’s what we’re looking for now as more a consistent effort and hopefully they turn into wins. When you got the amount of injuries you have, you take every win for what they are and [Thursday] was a good win for us.”

Now, with the playoff race in the East tightening, the Bruins realize they need to stop messing around and get in playoff mode.

“Well, we have to, right? We’ve been forced into it by apparently not winning back-to-back games since January 10th through 12th, or whatever it was, and also, just the standings are getting tighter so we’re getting forced into a playoff mode, which is probably a good thing for us,” Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said.

The Bruins have 83 points, which is good for first in the Northeast. But, consider that point total would tie them for third in the Atlantic with No. 5 seed Philadelphia and you see Thomas’ point. Ottawa, which has played three more games, is only three points behind. Win the division and the Bruins almost certainly will be the No. 2 seed behind the Rangers. Finish second and the B’s could wind up anywhere from fifth through seventh.

“It is a baby step, for sure,” David Krejci said of Thursday’s win. “We finally won two in a row. It’s been a while. It feels good. I feel like, especially the last three games, it started in New York, we played really good hockey. We keep playing the way we have, the wins will come.”

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