April 5, 2011

Thornton humbled by nomination for Masterton Trophy

Bruins winger Shawn Thornton has a career-high with nine goals and 18 points this year for the Bruins. (Getty)

WILMINGTON -- When the NHL concludes announcing the 30 candidates for this year's Masterton Trophy, Bruins winger Shawn Thornton may very well be the only one among them to lead his team in penalty minutes.

The award, annually given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, may not sound like a good fit for a player of Thornton's ilk at first blush, but the veteran forward embodies what the Masterton is all about more than one might think.

Upon joining the Bruins in the summer of 2007, it had been a full decade since Thornton was drafted 190th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In those ten years -- which involved stops in St. John's, Norfolk, Chicago, Portland and Anaheim -- the 6-foot-1 winger played in just 31 games at the NHL level before finally nailing down a spot with the eventual Cup-winning Ducks in 2006-07, a season in which he dressed for 48 regular-season games and 15 playoff tilts.

In addition to his long journey to a permanent role in the league, Thornton has become more and more active in the community, as he now lives year-round in Charlestown, Mass.

The 33-year-old forward organized the first annual Putts and Punches for Parkinson's golf tournament last fall and now plays a key role in the annual Cuts for a Cause charity event, in which fans have the opportunity to shave the heads of participating Bruins players with all of the proceeds going toward the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.

Regardless of what his chances of taking home the hardware are, Thornton knows that being a so-called enforcer shouldn't preclude anyone from being nominated for such an honor.

"Obviously I stick up for my teammates, but I don't think I'm a knucklehead when it comes to fighting," said Thornton. "I'm honest about it and I abide by the rules. I think you can be a sportsman and still get the gloves off every now and again. The guys that would never fight in this league definitely aren't sportsmen."

The Oshawa, Ontario, native is looking forward to Thursday's Cuts for a Cause event for a number of reasons, one being that he's badly in need of a little trim.

"My hair is growing over my ears so I can't wait to shave this off," Thornton said. "I'm very thankful for how many teammates signed up this year. It's obviously not forced or mandatory but they took it upon themselves once it was mentioned.

"I think it shows the character of the guys in this room. There's definitely some guys that don't want to lose their hair in here, but they're stepping up for a great cause."

Thornton was more than happy to take over the reins for the event after veteran d-man Aaron Ward was traded to the Hurricanes in the summer of 2009.

"When 'Wardo' got traded, I said I'd take it over and I thought it was a great thing," Thornton said. "It's an easy way to raise money for kids in need. It's been growing every year. It's cool to see all these guys go up there. It's very selfless, this whole event, so I'm very fortunate to have great teammates step up for the cause."

After learning that the Boston chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association had selected him as the Bruins nominee for the Masterton, Thornton said the news was quite the pleasant surprise.

"I'm very flattered," he said, making sure to give a sarcastic thank you to the circle of writers around him. "I think you can't take that lightly because it's a pretty big award. Just being nominated, I really appreciate it. I wasn't expecting it, so I was pretty excited when I found out."

Thornton should be as worthy a candidate as any among this year's crop of nominees. The league will announce the winner on June 22 in Las Vegas at the NHL Awards.