(The following story was prepared by Chris Dawson of BayToday.ca, a sister site of SooToday.com)
Getting drafted in the NHL and playing in the NHL are two different things. Just ask Chris Thorburn.
The Sault Ste. Marie native made his NHL debut on Friday as the Sabres hosted the San Jose Sharks. Thorburn was drafted in the second round of the 2001 NHL entry draft by the Buffalo Sabres.
It was an exciting day for Thorburn who was surrounded by more than 30 family members and a small entourage from his Junior team the North Bay Centennials, at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida.
“I’ve been waiting my whole life for this, it’s a dream come true,” the lanky forward said after he dawned a Sabres jersey for the first time that day.
“I had so many family members here, my coach, my owner, I mean there’s nothing else I could ask for to make this feeling better, it was complete I guess.”
But after the draft Thorburn endured a troubled 2001-2002 season where his OHL team; the North Bay Centennials, was sold to Saginaw. He then split his final two junior seasons with the Saginaw Spirit and the Plymouth Whalers before joining the AHL’s Rochester Americans in the fall of 2003.
The Sault Ste. Marie native has made a lot of adjustments to his game since his days in the OHL. The stitches underneath his eye after a mid November fight are a clear indication of that. Thorburn is no longer a first line slick skating center man, now he’s a physical 2nd-3rd line winger who’s willing to bump and grind.
“As far as Buffalo has been telling me, my awareness, my defensive play, I’m going to be known as a defensive forward and once in a while obviously fight, and take on any role that is necessary to help the team be successful,” said Thorburn before his call-up during interview after an Americans November 17th game against the Chicago Wolves.
Thorburn has enjoyed his time in Rochester, which is only about an hour drive from Buffalo. In fact, it’s an upstate town that has a lot of similarities to the Soo.
“Everything was kind of the same so there was no chance of me getting homesick, the fans here have been outstanding, they’ve been very supportive, I mean like the Soo they love their hockey. It’s like we are up in Canada everyone understands it, they get on you when you’re not doing well but for the most part they are always on your side,”
Now maybe with some solid play in Buffalo perhaps Thorburn will find a comfortable home with an NHL team in upstate New York.
Chris Thorburn was called up to play for the Sabres on Friday, December 2nd against the San Jose Sharks. He was held off the score sheet, getting a penalty and one shot on goal.
The former first round pick of the Centennials started his third year with the American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans this fall, where he had registered 17 points in 21 games with the Amerks this season.
Despite having to play through a difficult final season with the North Bay franchise before it was re-located to Saginaw in the spring of 2002, the Sault Ste. Marie native still has a lot of fond memories of the Gateway city.
“The people that I met there, just a top class organization, with Bill Finnis and Mr. Ted Thomson they were great guys they treated me very well and obviously Mr. Mike Kelly and my billets Sharon Walsh and Eva Leslie, they were outstanding people. They brought me to their homes and really made me feel at home and the friends I made along the way I can’t even name a few because there were so many.”
(NOTE: Thorburn's journey will be featured on an upcoming edition of "RinkratTV", which airs on LeafsTV.)