Former NHLer Scott Thornton glides deftly across the ice at Upper Canada College’s Wilder arena. No stick, no gloves, no helmet.
Moving in tandem with his diminutive partner, American pairs skater Amanda Evora, he grasps her hips and effortlessly pops her in the air. Continuing his stride, she rotates before sliding back into his arms.
The lift is called a split double twist; a difficult move and a stunning accomplishment considering Thornton only laced up figure skates a few weeks earlier in preparation for his turn on CBC’s Battle of the Blades.
The program pairs former hockey players with figure skaters, competing with other teams while raising money for their chosen charities. (Thornton’s is the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.)
The 6-foot-3 retired pro is in good spirits. Chosen third-overall by the Leafs in the 1989 entry draft, the London, Ont., native could teach a class in tenacity and the art of what to do when your first career ends.
A partner in a high-end spa at Blue Mountain, the Collingwood resident is also an owner/coach of CrossFit Indestri, a local gym. He’s taken time to pursue personal interests as well — from finishing an Ironman triathlon to learning how to weld so he could restore vintage muscle cars, a passion inherited from his father.
Although he made millions playing hockey over 17 seasons with the Leafs, Oilers, Canadiens, Sharks, Stars and Kings, Thornton prefers muscle cars to luxury rides.
“I’ve always had trucks and things like that, because I just couldn’t stand to spend a lot of money on a nice car,” he says.
Thornton is proud of his conservative, pragmatic choices: perhaps none more so than his first car: a 1981 Pontiac Acadian.
“It was a tiny little hatchback — a four-cylinder stick-shift, which I bought when I was 16.”
Working part-time in a factory, and with a top-up from mom, he was able to afford the $1,100 used car.
“It got me through three years of junior hockey when I went to Belleville to play,” he says. “It was the grossest colour, ever. It had orange and yellow stripes on a red car.
“I actually hit a pole when I hit some black ice after playing a game, and dented my front fender pretty good. So I had to get another colour fender (from a junkyard). I had a green fender on the red car.”
But Thornton admits the tiny Acadian was not his first choice. His billet in Belleville helped him steer clear of flashier cars.
“We went to a couple of used-car lots and everything I wanted was just not practical. They were hard on gas — they would have been muscle cars,” recalls the 42-year-old. “He kept looking at the condition of cars, and said (the Acadian) would be cheap on gas. So that’s the one I got, and it was a good car.
“But when I went back to London to visit my family … I remember just praying to get through Toronto and off the busy highway. If it breaks down in Kitchener, fine. I could pull over. Just don’t break down in the main city.
“It definitely wasn’t fast, so I never got any speeding tickets. I couldn’t pass anyone on the highways.”
Small as it was, Thornton was still able to cram eight of his teammates into the car for game days.
“It’s junior hockey: you do what you have to do. Guys are riding the city bus to the rink.”
The Acadian was also easy on his wallet. In the three years he owned it, he spent only $54 on an oil change and the new fender. He was able to sell it for $800, so it ultimately only cost about $130 per year.
Outdoorsy by nature, Thornton’s second car better reflected his personality. With his first paycheque of $34,000 from the Maple Leafs — the first installment of his signing bonus — the 19-year-old picked up a Jeep Wrangler YJ, with a soft top that came off in the summer.
A Jeep enthusiast, Thornton has owned three over the past 20 years, including one now, but his daily driver is a Ford F-150 four-door. Again, a practical choice.
“I have a gym, I’m carrying equipment around and towing a trailer sometimes. Mountain bikes and hockey bags are going in the back, so I don’t know if I can ever not have a pickup at my house.”
But the fan of auto-restoration shows (late-’60s muscle cars like Chevelles and GTOs are his favourites) is thinking about buying something more grand.
“I’d love to get an old Cadillac and just have my mountain bike sitting in the back seat,” he says with a wide smile.
That, or perhaps a luxury sedan.
“I’m at the point in my life where I’m starting to look,” he says. “I just think I’m ready to reward myself for all the years that I haven’t.”
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