Shawn Thornton’s still giving back to Boston five years after he left

By WEEI 93.7

MIDDLETON, Massachusetts -- The “Mayor of Charlestown” got a boost from the actual Mayor of Boston on Monday.

For the first time in nine years of Shawn Thornton’s Putts and Punches for Parkinson’s golf tournament, Mayor Marty Walsh was among the celebrity guests, a list that included Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, Andy Brickley, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek and actor Kevin Chapman.

“Maybe I’ll be vice-mayor by the end of the day,” joked Thornton, who became one of the most popular figures over the bridge in Charlestown during his seven seasons with the Bruins.

It’s been five years since Thornton left Boston for the Florida Panthers as a free agent and two years since he retired to join the Panthers’ front office. Still every summer he returns to Ferncroft Country Club to raise money for the Shawn Thornton Foundation, which supports several causes, including Parkinson’s and cancer research.

“It shows the type of people up here. We keep selling out, it keeps growing, keeps getting bigger and bigger. It’s just all about the people that want to help out and give back. I love Florida, but I miss it up here,” Thornton said.

The fact that Thornton continues to be a part of the Boston community even while living year round 1,500 miles away is one of the reasons Walsh sought out the opportunity to help boost Thornton’s foundation.

“It shows you, when he was a player here his heart was big and people loved him in Boston. And they still do. And the fact that he comes back means an awful lot to me and the people of Boston,” Walsh said.

One check of Thornton’s foundation’s website shows you it has raised more than $600,000 over the years. But raising money for his foundation and giving back to the community aren’t Thornton’s only post-playing career challenges. As senior vice president of the Panthers he has six or seven departments reporting to him and he’s responsible for sales and marketing plans, coming up with theme nights and ceremonies, and forging corporate partnerships.

Although the business work doesn’t replace the competition hockey brought Thornton -- jujitsu two or three times a week makes up for some of that – he is still working to stay ahead of the pack and excel in his role.

“In the business world, my mind never stops running,” Thornton said. “I’m constantly waking up at 3:30 in the morning and emailing our CEO with some crazy idea I have to try and drive sales and revenue in some capacity. So I am competitive in that way, but it’s just focused in a different direction.”

The most recent big idea to come from Panthers ownership and their front office, including Thornton’s departments, is the retiring of goaltender Roberto Luongo’s No. 1. Luongo announced his retirement earlier this summer as the Panthers’ all-time leader in games played by a goalie, wins, shutouts and saves.

“Everyone said for the last however many years that the first number that goes into that stadium should be Lu’s. He’s given so much back, he is part of that community, he lives there, his family lives there, he is a Parklander through and through. And he’s done so much for the organization so it was a no-brainer,” Thornton said. “When he talked to ownership and said that he planned on retiring, it was one of the first conversations that we had afterwards.”

Thornton’s job may have gotten a little easier this summer because of the commitment made by Florida’s ownership to bring in future Hall of Fame coach Joel Quenneville and a host of high-end free agents, including star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Selling the Panthers to the South Florida faithful, though, will always be a challenge with so much competing for attention in the region. Thornton thinks the Panthers are on the right path to prominence.

“We’re growing, our fan base is growing. We do so much in the community, we’re hoping that we grow from the ground up. When we start winning, it’s going to be an exponential factor of growth, people coming to the games because of all the stuff that we’ve done in the community,” he said.