Chris Thorburn had what might be called an improbable National Hockey League career.
Thorburn was nearing the end of his four-year Ontario Hockey League run in 2003 and had yet to be signed by the Buffalo Sabres, who had taken him two years earlier, in the second round of the 2001 NHL draft.
But the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario product would finish his OHL career with a flourish after being dealt by the Saginaw Spirit to the Plymouth Whalers at the 2003 trade deadline.
Thorburn tallied 11 goals, 22 assists, 33 points in 27 regular season games with Plymouth before adding another 11 goals, nine assists, 20 points in 18 playoff outings for the Whalers. His strong finish to his OHL playing days finally led to Thorburn being signed by Buffalo.
Still, Thorburn was considered a long shot to make it to the NHL. In fact, Thorburn spent three seasons developing in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans before making it to the NHL with Buffalo in 2006.
It would be the beginning of a long and winding and unlikely NHL career for good kid Thorburn, who recently announced his retirement from pro hockey at the age of 37.
In all, the six-foot-three, 235 pound forward known for his physical play and relentless work ethic, would go on to play in 801 regular season games (and four playoff contests) between Buffalo, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Atlanta Thrashers, Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues — and total 53 goals, 81 assists, 134 points while spending 968 minutes in the penalty box as the ultimate NHL role player.
Interestingly, only two of those 805 NHL games would be played for Buffalo, the team that originally drafted and signed Thorburn.
The son of Mark and Linda (Colizza) Thorburn and a product of Cathcart Street in the Sault’s west end, I first met Chris when he was a high school classmate of my daughter, Cara.
With Italian good looks and a friendly disposition, Thorburn was easy to like — and I followed his career with interest. In fact, I was at the 1999 OHL priority selections draft when the North Bay Centennials (who would later move to Saginaw and became the Spirit) took Thorburn in the first round, sixth overall.
Thorburn would have a good, solid OHL career between North Bay, Saginaw and Plymouth and total 79 goals, 124 assists, 203 points in 253 regular season games.
And he would become an admired NHL player who worked hard to make it to the Show — and worked even harder to stay there, becoming a respected player and leader on many of the teams that he played for.
In story book fashion, Thorburn would close out his NHL career by being a member of the 2019 Stanley Cup champions of St. Louis.
“To finish my hockey career with the St. Louis Blues and finally get an opportunity to lift the Stanley Cup over my head, I could not have scripted a better way to go out,” Thorburn relayed after recently announcing his retirement as a player.
Married with children, Thorburn can serve as a model for dedication, perseverance and exceptional attitude for any hockey player from anywhere looking to overachieve and take his/her game to the highest level of their ability.