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‘Big’ Joe Thornton

from Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated,

At about 9:30 on the night of Sept. 15, 1885, in the small southwestern Ontario city of St. Thomas, Jumbo the Elephant was being led through the rail yards to his boxcar after a performance with the Barnum, Bailey & Hutchinson Circus when an unscheduled westbound freight train hurtled down the tracks and slammed Jumbo from behind, dragging him 100 yards. One hundred men were needed to free the body of the nearly 12-foot tall, 6-1/2-ton African elephant. Ashes to ashes. Tusk to dust. The tragic demise of the world’s first four-legged superstar is marked by a plaque that abuts the tracks, some 200 yards northeast of the old Northside Arena, where Joe Thornton, the NHL’s Jumbo, played youth hockey.

St. Thomas is where Thornton grew up. And up. The Sharks center stands 6' 4" and 220 pounds, his imposing stature accentuated this spring by a luxurious expanse of beard that looks as if it were modeled on a daguerreotype of a Civil War general. (The Confederacy’s John Bell Hood, to be precise. You can look it up.) Thornton is not the biggest player, physically or metaphorically, in the Stanley Cup Final; Penguins star Sidney Crosby has a chance to win the Cup for a second time. Still Thornton wears the nickname honestly even though Glen Murray, Thornton’s old right wing in Boston, who with Bruins teammate Travis Green popularized Jumbo Joe, says he had no idea of the link between Thornton’s hometown and the world-renowned pachyderm. Unlike the fate of the original Jumbo, who would be re-imagined into big-eared Dumbo to the delight of 20th Century America’s youth, “Jumbo Joe” was a happy accident.

“You know how in sports you’re always looking for the right fit?” asks Murray, now a Kings player development coach. “How a guy fits on a team, on a line, in a dressing room? Well, here’s a nickname that just fit. His name was Joe. And he was really big.”


Filed in: NHL Teams, San Jose Sharks, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: joe+thornton


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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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