December 9, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Eight years around the NHL isn't so long and 30 years isn't so long in the tooth, and yet Chris Thorburn is already the guy young players look up to.
It's a peculiar twist of pro sport, how it conspires to make elder statesmen of young men, but so it goes in a league where the median career length is only four seasons. The Jets are a young team, a phrase echoed in interviews again and again, and here's a fun fact: when Thorburn turned 30 in June, he became just the third regular Jet to pass that milestone. Only Olli Jokinen, born in 1978, and 30-year-old centre Jim Slater have been alive longer.
Careers go by fast, and Thorburn's has too. It wasn't that long ago he was suiting up for his first two games with the 2005-06 Buffalo Sabres alongside vets including Teppo Numminen. The next season, he played 39 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he watched older guys such as Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts and Sergei Gonchar get 'er done. The lessons of those early days stuck.
"I was lucky to play with some great veterans, I learned a lot young," Thorburn said on Friday, just before hopping a plane for Belleville, Ont. where the Jets will face the Washington Capitals tonight. "I just try and instill that to the young kids who are coming up. I treat everyone the same... If guys have questions, I'm an easy guy to talk to, and an easy guy to get along with. Guys have been approaching me, and it's been fun."
There's value to that, in a training camp rife with young players still finding their way. Thorburn isn't going to win any scoring awards, but he came to camp fit and ready to play. He has biceps the size of small children, and he knows what's expected of him, whether he plays two minutes or 10. He has poured 427 regular-season hockey games, 60 fights and six years of his life into this franchise, and a lot of blood, too.
"Yeah, my face doesn't look as good as when I first came into the league," he said laughing. "That's all part of it. A couple scars here and there, it just creates character. And you get to brag a little bit too. If you get a black eye, you know, it looks kinda cool."
And if the Jets need someone to give a confidence boost to their young stars, well, Thorburn can be that guy too.
For instance, his thoughts on Mark Scheifele, who came to his first Jets camp in 2011 with eyes wide as saucers and a jangly grin:
"He's just a great kid to be around, a great kid," Thorburn said. "The Winnipeg Jets would be proud to say Mark Scheifele will be their poster boy. He's going to be a special player in the future."
Then there is Thorburn's friendship with Evander Kane. The two razz each other on Twitter sometimes, taking jabs about who is better at bulldozing through corners, and that's just evidence of a closeness that has grown since Kane's first year in the league. What has Thorburn taught the lightning-strike forward since then?
"Kaner's come a long way," Thorburn said. "Being there when he was younger in Atlanta, there was times when he experienced stuff that he wasn't used to. Just to be there to give him some advice, and have somebody that he knows he can trust and talk to when things are tough."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2013 C11