No emotions clouding his judgment. No expectations about how the fans will receive him. No regrets.
Not this time, anyway.
arrived in Boston today to prepare for a hockey game Tuesday night -- a huge one in fact. Any ill will he might have once harbored toward his former team and his former town dissipated long ago.
It's been more than three years since the Bruins dealt Thornton to San Jose in a blockbuster, four-player trade on Nov. 30, 2005. He returns for Tuesday's marquee game on Versus as a grown man leading the top team in the Western Conference into the home of the East's best.
TD Banknorth Garden used to be Thornton's home arena, too -- but that seems like a lifetime ago.
"Really, that's all it is to me, an important game," Thornton said of the game that begins at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. "There are not too many ex-teammates over there. They're the best in the East, and we're the best in the West -- so it's an important game."
It wasn't a potential preview for the Stanley Cup Final on Jan. 10, 2006, when Thornton made his first return to Boston less than three months after the trade that sent Brad Stuart
, Marco Sturm
and Wayne Primeau
to the Bruins.
Thornton was jeered by the fans and perhaps, just a little, his emotions got the best of him. He was ejected 5:13 into the first period for checking his good friend, Hal Gill
, from behind. It was shocking and certainly a memorable homecoming, to say the least.
"It's hockey and you kind of expect the unexpected, but obviously you want to play the full 60 minutes," Thornton said. "It ended up working out well because I think we won pretty big that night (6-2). I got to eat some popcorn in the room, but yeah, the plan is to play the full game (Tuesday) and have a good game."
Thornton, who played seven-plus seasons with the Bruins and posted 454 points in 532 games, has never been given a full explanation as to why he was traded, but the fortunes of the Sharks, Bruins and Thornton have all turned dramatically ever since.
Prior to swinging the deal, Boston had lost nine of its last 10 games and San Jose was on a 10-game losing streak (0-7-3). Backed by Thornton's 3 goals and 11 assists, the Sharks won their first six games after the trade and are 172-71-29 with Thornton in the lineup.
Thornton has been the League's leading scorer since the trade with 358 points in 271 games heading into the weekend. He has 57 this season to help the Sharks lead the Western Conference since Day One. They have 79 points.
"It's worked out well for me, obviously," Thornton said. "But, I thought it was going good in Boston as well. I don't think there was anything wrong there to be honest with you, but I was young then and now I'm maturing. (With maturity), you get to know the game a little bit better and you get more confidence."
The turnaround didn't happen as quickly for the Bruins, who had to swing a few more deals to become the President's Trophy-leader they are today. The lead the League with 85 points after Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss to Philadelphia.
The Bruins used Stuart and Primeau to get Andrew Ference
and Chuck Kobasew
from Calgary on Feb. 10, 2007. Ference and Kobasew are key role players now. Seventeen days later they traded Brad Boyes
to St. Louis for Dennis Wideman
, who has turned into their second-best defenseman. They have also added All-Stars Marc Savard
and Zdeno Chara
as well as youngsters David Krejci
, Phil Kessel
, Blake Wheeler
and Milan Lucic
Boston was 136-102-35 since trading Thornton, but is 70-37-19 since the start of the 2007-08 season. Only three players who were on the team at the time of the trade -- Patrice Bergeron
, P.J. Axelsson
and Tim Thomas
-- remain on the roster.
With the success of both teams this season, Thornton admitted he does think about a potential matchup in the Stanley Cup Final. That would be as strange as it would be special.
"You (let your mind) wander a little bit, but obviously we've still got a lot of hockey to work out here," Thornton said. "If that were the case it would be great because both teams made it, but both teams would agree we've still got a lot of work ahead of us."
As much as Thornton is a different person and player since the trade, he vividly remembers Nov. 30, 2005. It was his first time ever being traded, so he said it was "a little weird and a little emotional to be leaving" the team that drafted him in 1997.
His first trip back to Boston, as short as it turned out to be, was odd.
"Just how weird and awkward it was," Thornton said when asked what he remembers most from Jan. 10, 2006. "It just felt really strange to be on a different side on the bench and skating a different way."
It won't be that way Tuesday.
"I've been a Shark for a long time now," he said. "It'll still be a little bit funny, but being through it once before, I don't think it's going to be a big challenge for me."
Contact Dan Rosen: at email@example.com.