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St. Thomas honours its hockey hero with banner


He is arguably the biggest celebrity to hail from St. Thomas.

And, now, Joe Thornton has a permanent banner at the Timken Centre, marking two decades of hockey accomplishments in St. Thomas and beyond. Unveiled on Friday, the four-by-20 foot banner will hang in the upper level of the Timken Centre's main rink.

While Joe Thornton was unable to attend, his parents, Wayne and Mary Thornton, were on hand for the official unveiling.

"We would just like to thank all of St. Thomas for supporting Joe throughout the years. They've been fantastic," said Wayne Thornton. "All of his friends are here, everybody has been behind Joe to support him, sometimes financially, sometimes with moral support. The whole Thornton family really appreciates what St. Thomas has done."

Wayne Thornton said his son wanted to be there for the ceremony but said Joe and his wife, Tabea, are expecting a child.

"We're going to be grandparents pretty soon, so there's going to be another hockey player."

The banner was organized and paid for by friends and family of the Thorntons.

"Joe's a special person who deserves to be recognized. And that's why we're doing this today," said Lynhurst resident Mike Vecchio, one of the organizers.

He said when Joe was born on July 2, 1979, "little did we know what he was going to accomplish."

Vecchio said as a child Joe spent countless hours on a backyard rink or in the driveway, shooting at a plywood goalie built by his dad.

Years of work and thousands of kilometres travel led to the creation of "Jumbo Joe, Olympic gold medalist and NHL all-star," Vecchio said. The nickname is a homage to Jumbo, the famous elephant killed in St. Thomas 125 years ago.

"We're extremely proud of him and his accomplishments," said Karen Vecchio, another organizer, who thanked the community for its support over the years. "We know it's because of you guys that he had all of the courage and determination to become what he has."

Hailing from Lynhurst, Thornton played for many local teams including the St. Thomas Junior Stars (1986-1993), the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs (1993-1994) and St. Thomas Stars (1993-1995) as well as the Soo Greyhounds (1995-1997) before he was drafted first overall by the Boston Bruins in 1997. In 2005 he was traded to the San Jose Sharks where he plays as assistant captain.

His accomplishments include the Art Ross Trophy (2006) for league top scorer and the Hart Memorial Trophy (2006) for league MVP as well as trips to the NHL all-star game in 2002-2004 and 2006-2009.

"It really is an honour for me as mayor to stand there and recognize on behalf of St. Thomas all the accomplishments Joe has done," said Mayor Cliff Barwick.

Steve Peters, Liberal MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, noted when Queen Elizabeth II visited Toronto, she unveiled a display from the Hockey Hall of Fame and was presented with an Olympic jersey with the royal crest on it. In the same display was Thornton's 2010 Vancouver Winter Games Team Canada jersey.

"It's so cool to see the Queen unveil this hockey jersey that was given to her and there in the corner is Joe Thornton's jersey," he said.

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