Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Stroke of Genius – Assessing Joe Thornton’s Celebration Idea


One of the biggest stories has been Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks. He scored four goals in a 9-2 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday, and his fourth goal was an immediate contender for Goal of the Year.

The goal got the attention of fans and NHL personalities alike, most of whom loved the enthusiasm and creativity the 19-year-old Czech rookie showed. However, Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates wasn’t a fan of the celebration, thinking it was showboating.

Meanwhile, the Sharks are in Vancouver to play the Canucks tonight, and in a media scrum, San Jose’s Patrick Marleau was asked about Hertl’s goal and the frenzy that followed.

Cue the Joker himself, Jumbo Joe Thornton, courtesy of The Province. (Credit to Puck Daddy for the censoring idea.)

Hearing a question to Marleau about Hertl and whether he was showboating, Thornton said:

“Shut up, have you ever played the game?”

When the press turned his way, he then added:

“I’d have my [rooster] out if I scored four goals. I’d have my [rooster] out, stroking it.”

Once word of the quote got out, the Sharks were quick to denounce The Province and reporter Jason Botchford, calling the published quote a “pathetic attempt to generate hits and controversy an off-the-cuff and off-the-record comment from a player who wasn’t being interviewed at the time.”

Predictably, Twitter went nuts.

Anaheim Ducks winger Dustin Penner may have said it best, though.

(Aside – A word of advice for Penner, though: It’s “The Stroke” instead of “Stroke Me.” I might also suggest Green Day’s “All By Myself” so as to stay somewhat local.)

All jokes and Twitter reaction aside, Thornton should be applauded for speaking his mind for a couple reasons.

First, Thornton takes some attention away from Hertl, who doesn’t need distractions ruining his strong start to the season. Thornton is standing up for a teammate here, all while exposing the story for what it is: A manufactured controversy designed to stifle on-ice creativity in a new NHL where great goals are supposed to be rewarded, not frowned upon.

Marek Malik made the same move in a shootout, and I don’t recall anyone whining about that. I know Malik’s goal was in a preseason game, but I don’t see the difference. Pavel Datsyuk made Marty Turco look silly back in 2003 when his Detroit Red Wings were already up by three goals, but was there an uproar about it? I don’t remember anything.

So why target Hertl? Is it just because he’s a rookie who supposedly hasn’t earn the right to be creative?

In a nutshell, the critics need to lighten up. It’s not like he had a hot stick or pretended to shoot the goalie after scoring. He scored a pretty goal, so move on. I’m sure the Sharks have heard more than enough about the last game and just want to focus on tonight.

Secondly, Thornton showed that hockey players have personalities, too. Apart from Canucks head coach John Tortorella and the infamous Ilya Bryzgalov, there aren’t a whole lot of immediately notable quotes in the NHL. More often than not, the result is a scrum of cliché-filled, boring, vanilla interviews.

Not every Tom, Dick, or Harry has the cajones to say what’s on their mind, so kudos to Thornton for offering a window into the locker room mentality without needing an HBO 24-7 series to do it. He also shouldn’t feel the need to apologize because it could promote a culture of censorship throughout the league.

I also give credit to Botchford for sticking to his guns when asked about it on TSN’s That’s Hockey. As a journalism graduate, I completely agree with Botchford when he said it’s ridiculous to consider the comments off-the-record, especially if Thornton was as insolent as he claimed. In a world where media spin is more prevalent than ever, Botchford took something that wasn’t a paint-by-numbers answer and ran with it.

I get the idea of some things being off-the-record more than others, and that there’s a certain privacy associated with locker room banter. However, I was always taught as a reporter to assume everything said is on the record. You’d be insane to think the players don’t get media training, so almost everything they say is calculated. Joe Thornton knew what he was saying, and it was fair game for all reporters in the scrum, not just Botchford.

I’ll let John Thornton (Joe’s brother) have the last word here.

While the Sign Cory Pecker petition might be on hold, let’s take a step back and appreciate today for what it was: A rare moment of candour from one of the league’s best players.

Tags: Jason Botchford Joe Thornton San Jose Sharks Tomas Hertl