The New Legend of Thor
Chris Thorburn is having a storied 2010-11 season thus far
According to Norse legend, Thor was the God of Thunder. With flowing hair and long, red beard, the hammer-wielding Thor was fierce and powerful, but also beloved because of his protecting both gods and humans against the forces of evil.
A similar legend is growing in Atlanta, with a similar namesake, in Chris Thorburn, the Thrashers' 27-year-old right wing (he's also seen time at center this season.).
There are differences, of course (besides the obvious Norse roots and god status).
Atlanta's "Thor" doesn't wield a hammer although he puts the hammer down on opponents with crushing checks. He doesn't have a beard but would like to try his hand at a playoff beard (even if it wouldn't be red), and he only has hair billowing out of his helmet because he "didn't know what to do with it."
But when it comes to popularity in the locker room, Thorburn, in his fourth season in Atlanta, unquestionably rates as one of the most popular Thrashers.
Contributing to his high level of popularity has been his willingness to throw his substantial weight (6-3, 230 pounds) around for the sake of his teammates, sending a message to opponents when one needs to be sent, especially if the teammate in question is his rookie sidekick, 6-1, 180 lb center Alex Burmistrov).
So far in 2010, he's done something to further gain the favor of the coaching staff — score.
Thorburn carried a career-high four-game scoring streak into Wednesday night's game against Buffalo at Philips Arena. He also had a three-game goal-scoring streak, which was snapped in Atlanta's last game. For a little perspective, Thorburn had four goals in 76 games last season.
"Chris is going to play in a number of different positions because he can," said Atlanta Head Coach Craig Ramsay. "He can grind on face-offs, he'll block shots, he plays hard, he can skate. He's going to be in a checking role on a lot of occasions but there's no reason he can't score. He's got pretty good hands. He's learning quickly and I see him probably playing all three forward positions at some point during the season."
Thorburn showed the full range of skills during Atlanta's 2-1 West Coast swing. The highlight may have been an electrifying rush to the net against Los Angeles, where he split the gap between Kings defensemen, then, when his shot was stopped by goaltender Jonathan Quick, showed his tenacity by following his shot, pouncing on the rebound and slipping it past Quick (you can watch it right here). Unfortunately, it would be Atlanta's only goal in the 3-1 defeat, but the effort illustrated the personality and work ethic of the 2010-11 Thrashers, who got off to a 3-2 start. His performance even earned him some power-play time, resulting in his first career power-play goal on Oct. 15 against the Ducks.
"We've got a pretty hard-nosed, blue-collar team here," he said. "I think it's going to be exciting to watch us. If we can get off to a quick start, build some confidence I think it will bode well for us.
"It's a new season, it's a new start and a new chance for us to get into the playoffs," he added. "It's kind of gotten repetitive, where at the end of each year we're always like, 'We're going to make the playoffs [next year].' But this year the guys in here are starving for some playoff action. We got some guys from Chicago that just won the Cup. We want it to happen here in Atlanta and this is the year to do it."
Thorburn's positive outlook is based, in part, on carryover from his 2009-10 season, during which he combined his speed and power with solid checking and some scoring punch to tally a team-high three shorthanded goals (fifth in the League), while finishing with a career-best plus-six rating.
"As far as defensive stat-wise last year, I was happy with my plus-minus even though it's not a fair stat at times," he said. "It's something I take some pride in. So I'm looking to do the same this year. I'm staying committed and working hard, that's pretty much my main focus. Hopefully I can get the results."
At this point defenseman Ron Hainsey, whose locker is next to Thorburn's at the team's practice facility, chimed in, "Put him on the the ice with me, [the plus-minus is] going down."
They shared a laugh over the remark.
His off-ice life is another reason for the Thorburn's positive outlook. He's enjoying the commitment of being a dad, which began in May, when he and wife, Sara, celebrated the arrival of their first child, son, Bennett (coincidentally, Hainsey became a first-time dad on Oct. 14, when his wife, Hayley, delivered daughter, Alexa Marie).
"Taking care of him keeps you pretty busy," he said. "We had a boy in May. That was perfect timing, with no hockey, so I had some time to create a relationship with him.
"Now that the season picks up, the wife's got to pick up her game," he added with a laugh. "I've got to say my wife has done a pretty solid job as far as allowing me to get some rest."
About the only troubling issue for Thorburn is the state of his hair.
"I don't do products. I don't do anything like that," he said, although he admitted he wouldn't necessarily close the door to interested sponsors. "The way it lays and the way it dries that's the way I wear it. The wife hates it."
But he wouldn't dare cut it while on a hot streak, would he?
"I just don't know what to do with it right now," he said. "The middle stages are terrible with the kind of hair I have. So just grow it out and not care too much about it, as long as the management doesn't mind, I'm just going to continue growing it and see what happens."