Joe Thornton is one of the most-beloved Sharks of all time, spending the past 15 years making the crowds roar at SAP Center.
Former head coach Peter DeBoer, now the bench boss for the Vegas Golden Knights, recently told a great story during a panel for the NHL Coaches' Association's Global Coaches' Clinic that perfectly exemplifies the leader Thornton has been over his decade-plus in San Jose (h/t The Athletic).
"Game 7 against Vegas last year, we’re down 3-0 and we get a five-minute power play," DeBoer said. "We go out and score four goals on the power play and win in (overtime). I remember the first unit – and Joe Thornton wasn’t on our first unit – the Hall of Famer, maybe the best setup man of all time other than Wayne Gretzky as far as distributing the puck and making other guys better, making a living on the power play. However, our first unit kept scoring, and we got to the four-minute mark, we tied it up 3-3 and I decided the first unit was tired, they scored three, let’s give the second unit some ice time. I remember Joe looked at me and said, ‘No, leave them out there. They’re hot. Leave them.’
"I look back at that now, you’ve got a Hall of Fame player that made his entire career on playing in those moments, of being the difference, hopping over the boards and getting the winning goal on the power play, and he deferred. He had enough presence and leadership and security in himself. And sure enough, the first unit scored again even though they were dead-ass tired. That’s something I’ll never forget."
Thornton's selflessness is just part of why the 40-year-old is a four-time NHL All-Star and a franchise icon.
He finished the 2019-20 season with 31 points through 70 games, but hasn't given any indication that he plans to hang up his skates.
As the Sharks look to rebound from a disappointing 2019-20 season, they'll need all the veteran leadership Thornton can impart before he sails off into the sunset.