You could point to a lot of big moments over the Sharks highly-successful four-game road trip through Canada. Getting the best of a tough Winnipeg Jets team. Keeping their emotions in check against the Calgary Flames and getting their revenge on the scoreboard.
But if there was one highlight that capped the roadie off perfectly, it was the one that took place Monday evening in Vancouver when Joe Thornton passed Gordie Howe on the NHL's all-time assists list.
“There are really no words,” teammate Logan Couture told the media after the Thornton tallied the record-breaking assist in San Jose’s 7-2 win over the Canucks. “To say I’m in the dressing room with a guy that’s ahead of Gordie Howe now. It’s pretty crazy.”
Thornton has been reaching plenty of milestones over the course of this season -- one he began battling back from the aftermath of having knee surgery. Jumbo’s teammates have always spoken highly of him. Whenever he’s reached a milestone during the 2018-19 campaign, they’ve pointed out how hard he works, how much of a legend he truly is.
Scoring his 400th career goal was a pretty big moment. Tying Teemu Selanne on the NHL’s all-time points list on Monday evening is a big deal, too. But in the second period against the Canucks, Thornton won a puck battle in San Jose territory and motored up the ice to set up Kevin Labanc for a goal. That assist put Thornton ahead of Mr. Hockey -- and that moment put him on a whole other level.
“When you pass Gordie Howe on any list, I don’t care what list it is, that’s the story of the night,” Sharks’ head coach Peter DeBoer said. “That’s an unbelievable accomplishment. Unbelievable career.”
“He’s a special player,” Couture continued. “He’s been a special player for two decades.”
Those two decades have seen plenty of ups and downs for No. 19, yet the seasoned veteran has continued to work through whatever adversity comes his way. It’s that unwavering work ethic and continuous high level of compete that makes it so hard to believe when Thornton doesn’t always get the celebrated reaction he deserves. Heck, who knows if fans will ever get over him being snubbed from that 100 Greatest Players list a couple years back. His teammates don’t appear to have let such things go.
“I still believe that he’s underrated,” Couture admitted. “I still don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for how world class of a player he has been over two decades.”
But Monday night was no time for dwelling on the negatives. Joe Thornton now sits on a list ahead of one of the most decorated skaters to ever play the game.
“That’s something that should be celebrated,” DeBoer said. “I think our whole group is excited we were here to witness that.”