For those who might not have heard the story about how the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Joe Thornton got his nickname, there are a couple of thoughts. Thornton’s nickname “Jumbo Joe” works because he’s a huge guy, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 220 pounds. But it also has to do with a unique circumstance that stems from where Thornton grew up.
The Statue Erected in St. Thomas, Ontario
In a Boston Globe article now more than a decade old, but updated two years ago, just before the Boston Bruins drafted Thornton first overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, Boston Globe sports writer Kevin Paul Dupont uncovered where the nickname came from. (from “Revisiting the Jumbo Joe Thornton nickname, and possibly his last game at the Garden,” Matt Porter, Boston Globe, 29/10/19).
Apparently Jumbo the Elephant, from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus of the 1880s died in Thornton’s hometown – St. Thomas, Ontario. One hundred years after Jumbo’s death in 1885, the town erected a statue there. And, when Thornton was drafted by the Bruins a link was made between Thornton’s size, his hometown, and the statue. The nickname stuck.
Thornton’s NHL Career is Hall of Fame Worthy
There’s no denying that Thornton’s NHL career is worthy of his placement in the Hockey Hall of Fame. That said, when the Maple Leafs signed him during the offseason before the 2020-21 season, there was a lot of grumbling about Thornton’s age and lack of speed. The expectation was that Thornton would become part of a pretty solid third line, playing with (and probably mentoring) some of the younger Maple Leafs’ players.
Obviously, head coach Sheldon Keefe had other ideas. Prior to the beginning of the season, Keefe announced that Jumbo Joe would play on his team’s first line with young stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Many fans and hockey commentators alike were critical of the idea. Thornton would never be able to keep up with such speed. He’d be behind the play consistently.
Although the season’s not yet fulfilled, the idea seems a bit more palatable with each game this Maple Leafs’ team plays. Matthews is on fire scoring goals with 16 in 17 games; Marner is third in NHL scoring with 27 points in 18 games. And, Thornton is beginning to score as well.
Thornton’s on a Three-Game, Six-Point Streak
In a loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 20, the 41-year-old Thornton fractured his ribs in what looked like a regular bump against the boards. He was out with that injury for almost a month. His first game back was on Monday this week. Prior to the injury, Thornton had scored two points in the first five games he played with his new team this season.
When he returned to the lineup, he took his place with his usual linemates – Matthews and Marner – and the three of them began to light up the ice.
Working backwards, Thornton scored a goal and two assists in Thursday’s game to help lead the Maple Leafs to a 7-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. In Wednesday night’s game, he scored an assist and actually had two goals disallowed. On Monday – his first game back – Thornton scored a goal and an assist in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Senators.
Since Thornton’s Return From His Injury
In total since his return from his rib injury, Thornton has scored six points (two goals and four assists) in three games. He’s on fire and he’s grown a real chemistry with both Marner and Matthews. In a skating contest, there’s no doubt that he couldn’t keep up with the youngsters; however, winning hockey games isn’t about how fast you skate – although that helps.
What Thornton does on the ice is simply the stuff of mixing skill, experience, and hockey IQ. He’s skating some incredibly long shifts for a 40+ year old. But, he’s smart and conserves energy. He knows where to go and he’s learning where his teammates will be. As a result, Thornton is going to have his biggest season in more than five seasons.
Thornton’s Spark to the Maple Leafs
In the video below, Shawn McKenzie and Chris Johnston discuss how Thornton’s return will help spark the Maple Leafs.
Where Is the Season Headed for Thornton?
Prognosticating Thornton’s future – even this season – might be a tough call. He looks great with the Maple Leafs lineup and – surprisingly – he looks great with his two young linemates. To date, he’s played eight games with the Maple Leafs. He has scored three goals and five assists for eight points in those games. That’s a point-a-game pace for the future Hall of Famer – Jumbo Joe.
He might have started the season slowly, but over his last three games he’s growing more Jumbo every game.
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