Hard to believe it’s been nearly five years since we found out about Gord Downie’s cancer diagnosis.
Harder still to believe there are new stories being told about theTragically Hip frontman and his lifelong love of hockey.
On Wednesday, hockey fans and Hip fans alike were given a gift from The Athletic’s Joshua Kloke: an interview with Leafs left winger Joe Thornton and Patrick Downie about the very close friendship Thornton had with Gord.
The relationship between Thornton and the Downie brothers started in 1997, when Thornton was drafted first overall by the Downies’ beloved Bruins and a reporter asked Thornton, as an ice breaker, about his favourite music. Thornton proudly proclaimed that it was the Hip and, when the interview was over, the reporter pointed out Patrick Downie standing nearby.
Thornton didn’t meet Gord Downie right away but they quickly became close, with Thonrton wanting to talk music and Gord wanting to talk hockey.
They stayed close over the years and, when Gord’s health started to fail, Thornton was one of the few people for whom the door to the Downie house remained open.
Kloke paints a beautiful, loving portrait of two men who have obvious fondness, respect and a deep love for each other — you can get a sense that there were many heartfelt hugs when the two men would walk around Gord’s Toronto neighbourhood in late 2016 — and draws some parallels between the two men.
For example, he notes that it was Thornton’s Bruins jersey Gord wore to his treatments. It was also during that time that Gord began wearing a scruffy beard and that Thornton began growing the beard that has made him instantly recognizable. “A coincidence, sure, but an opportunity to bond all the same,” Kloke writes.
We knew that “You, Me and the B’s” off 2017’s Introduce Yerself was written in thanks to Patrick for caring for Gord as his health deteriorated but also to share, one more time, their love of the Boston team. But just now are we learning that “Safe is Dead” was inspired by something Thornton said to Gord.
Now it makes a little more sense why Thornton’s former team, the San Jose Sharks, skated out to two Hip songs in January 2017 for a rematch against the St. Louis Blues, the team that beat the Sharks in the Western Conference Finals the prior season.
It’s a tremendous piece of writing and well worth a read. The Athletic is a subscription-based site and might be behind a paywall, but if you can get a trial, it’s a piece of journalism that will warm and break your heart at the same time.