Back in the 1950s and 1960s there were only 6 NHL teams. The players on these teams were usually the best of the best. Once a player was drafted by a team, he was their “property” for life. This leads me to the story of Len Thornson. I was doing some research as to who were the greatest hockey players to never reach the NHL. First was Tommy Burlington <link>, which in itself is a great story, but I knew there were others.
Len was originally drafted by the Montreal Canadiens. At the time the Canadiens dominated hockey, in fact over the course of Len’s career, they won 7 NHL championships. The truth was, for every 1 open roster spot, there were 150 players or more gunning for it. While waiting for the call up he played mainly for the Ft. Wayne Komets of the IHL. In 13 seasons with the Komets, he scored 426 goals and had a total of 1252 points in 819 games.
He won the MVP for the league 7 times out of his 14 seasons in the league. His record still stands as the most points scored in league history. Amazingly he would have even put up better numbers if it weren’t for an on-ice accident that left him legally blind in one eye. He retired at 35, and in his final season he was a player coach for the Komets. He still lives in Ft. Wayne, and he still attends Komets games and even some practices.
Tonight I will be working on a custom card for the Custom Card Blog, so that I can attempt to get a TTM autograph of him. Some of the best stories in sports are of the legends that never made it. I find it so much more interesting than players that do only to fizzle out. If Len played now, he would be a millionaire, it’s funny what a few decades can do for a hockey player. Below is a card of him as a member of the New Westminster Royals and a virtual card made by the Komets for their 50th anniversary team.