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The Odd Couple
Gerry Callahan
November 16, 1998
Joe Thornton (left) and Sergei Samsonov have little in common, save that they're big-time talents who are the future of the Bruins
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November 16, 1998

The Odd Couple

Joe Thornton (left) and Sergei Samsonov have little in common, save that they're big-time talents who are the future of the Bruins

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Bourque, 37 and a 16-time All-Star, says he helped Samsonov open an account at a bank and "showed him where the malls are." He saw shades of himself in the tunnel-visioned teenager. "Same attitude," says Bourque. "No matter how good a game he has, it's not good enough. He shows up at practice the next day like he's got something to prove."

So what did they talk about on the way to the rink? Music? Sports? The stock market? Women? "The game," says Bourque, "if we talked at all."

From the day the young twosome arrived in Boston, Thornton has talked enough for both of them. Gregarious and carefree, he looks even less refined when held to the standard set by Samsonov. Nine months younger than Samsonov, Thornton came to the NHL straight from his junior team in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., which would have been like Ryan Leaf jumping to the NFL from his high school team in Montana. "Joe was so good in juniors he didn't have to work at it," says Sinden. "When he got here, he didn't understand that when he has the puck, someone really wants to take it from him."

Are the Bruins disappointed in him? "No, but we're going to be if he doesn't pick up his intensity," says Sinden. "He has to understand: This is serious business. We're not in this for fun."

That isn't an easy concept to teach a teenager who's making $925,000 a year, the same as Samsonov, to play hockey. "Why shouldn't I be enjoying life?" says Thornton, who had five points in 15 games through Sunday. "I'm living a dream." Which makes it tough to wake up at times. Some of Thornton's teammates chuckled when he recently overslept and missed a rare opportunity to play The Country Club, site of next year's Ryder Cup. When Hooters made its debut in Boston last year, Thornton was seen waiting in line on opening night—not the best publicity for someone whose dedication to the game was already in question. "The amazing thing wasn't that he was going to a bar," says a member of the Boston organization, "but that he was waiting in line. He could have told them who he was and gotten right in. But that's Joe. He never big-times anyone or expects to be treated special."

Thornton lives outside Boston with a family that has taken in young Bruins players in the past. Nicole Hynes, his surrogate mother, calls Thornton "the least pretentious person I've ever met." She regularly helps Thornton answer his fan mail, a chore, incidentally, that Samsonov says is too time-consuming for him. As for special occasions, Hynes says Thornton never forgets her children's birthdays, let alone his own. "Since I've known him," she says, "he's made one extravagant purchase—he bought his mother a red Corvette."

The bright side for the Bruins is that they have the perfect hockey player on their hands: big, fast, skilled, driven, dedicated, focused and full of personality. Unfortunately, he comes in two packages. The Bruins know there's nothing they can do about Little Sammy's size, but they wouldn't mind instilling some soldier in Big Joe. "We expected him to be giddy," Sinden says of Thornton, "but we don't expect him to stay giddy forever."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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