What's it like to play with ‘legend' Joe Thornton? Young linemates answer


SAN JOSE – A little over twelve hours had passed between Joe Thornton scoring his 400th career goal and the Sharks practicing the following morning. But the excitement over the 39-year-old forward scoring the milestone goal hadn’t faded.

“It was so much fun,” Kevin Labanc told NBC Sports California, unable to suppress a smile. “The whole building just erupted.”

The goal, which capped off Team Teal’s late-game come-from-behind victory over the Nashville Predators, isn’t necessarily a stand-alone moment. It’s a testament of how hard Thornton has worked to get to this point – battling against injuries to not just reach milestones, but to keep inspiring his teammates.

“He’s honestly a legend,” said Labanc, who has recently spent time playing Thornton’s wing. “He’s just a great guy on and off the ice. Always so positive. You see the work he puts in every single day.”

Thornton’s 2017-18 campaign was cut short after he sustained a knee injury in late January. After participating in training camp and playing the first two games of the 2018-19 season, an infection in his surgically-repaired knee left him sidelined for nine games. 

Since returning to action at the end of October, No. 19 has put in the time to improve with each passing game. That work ethic and level of compete is something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.

“It just makes him that much more special,” Labanc continued. “That’s a lot of recovery and rehab, and for him to come back and be just as good as he is… It’s just incredible.”

Part of that success coming back to the lineup has been the chemistry he has found with some of his younger teammates. Since being placed at the center of San Jose de facto third line, Thornton has built undeniable chemistry with Swedish winger Marcus Sorensen.

In fact, it was Sorensen who set Thornton up for his 400th goal.

“I’m just so happy for him,” Sorensen said multiple times when recalling setting up the goal.

When asked how the two of them have been able to create such good chemistry, Sorensen said it comes down to communication.

“He’s really good at talking to me on the ice,” Sorensen said.

Labanc, who slotted in on Thornton’s wing opposite Sorensen on Tuesday night, agreed. “You really get to understand Joe more once you get to play with him,” he explained. “You understand his tendencies and how he plays in the offensive zone.”

Whether it’s on the ice or off it’s clear Thornton’s drive is helping push the Sharks along, whether that means notching a milestone goal or playing part in a come-from-behind victory.

“It gives the whole team momentum,” Labanc said. “Because if he’s doing it, the rest of us have no excuse.”

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