Belfast the trip of a lifetime, says Boston Bruins star Shawn Thornton
When you’ve won the biggest prize in your chosen sport most other things probably pale in comparison.
An exhibition game in an arena half the size of what you are used to and in a country where there is no history of ice hockey isn’t likely to whet the appetites of many men who have lifted the Stanley Cup.
For Shawn Thornton, however, playing at the Odyssey Arena will rank alongside being a champion in the world’s top league.
And he isn’t ruling out the possibility of his first game in Belfast not being the last.
For Thornton this evening’s game between the Boston Bruins and a Belfast Giants select team is a special night in his career as he gets to play in the city where his mother was born — a city he has always wanted to visit, but it took ice hockey to bring him here.
“I have been dying to get over here, to check out the city and play some golf, but I have never managed to get enough time in the summers to do that so this has worked out perfectly for me,” he said.
“I’ve been looking forward to the trip. I heard about it a little bit before it was announced, but ever since I heard I’ve been really excited.
“I’ve been talking to my family about it for a long time, so I’m glad it’s here.
“I’m pretty fortunate to be able to do this through ice hockey. I never thought it would happen.
“I’m probably as excited as the rest of the guys put together.
“Along with winning the Stanley Cup with Anaheim and playing in the Winter Classic this year, this is in the top three highlights of my career.”
Two of Thornton’s closest friends have briefed him on Belfast. Former Giants defenceman Terran Sandwith and ex-goaltender Mike Minard told him everything he needed to know.
And the chance to emulate them in pulling on a Giants jersey at some time in the future is something which may well interest the 32-year-old defenceman.
“Anything is possible I suppose,” he said.
“It’s going to be a few years down the road anyway I hope. I plan to play in the NHL for as long as they will let me.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about here from Terran Sandwith and Mike Minard and I’d definitely like to come back some day.”
Thornton’s mother Christine had never been back to Belfast since she left with her family in the 1960s, but Shawn wasn’t going to leave her behind once he knew the Bruins were coming to Northern Ireland.
“Just last week I got my mom a flight and I think she’s called me three times a day every day since then. She’s pretty ecstatic,” said Thornton.
“She left when she was really young. I was told a couple of stories here and there by my grandparents, but not a lot.
“I have a lot to learn while I am here.
“There’s a lot of correspondence between my aunts and mom and the people back here.
“It’s exciting for me and it’s exciting for them too to be able to come and watch me in a game.
“I told my mom she had 20 tickets to give out and she said she’ll be using every one of them.”