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Big Joe, Cheech and Patty

by Alison High / San Jose Sharks
Only a handful of teams are lucky enough to have one All-Star anchor their top line, let alone two playing together. But in San Jose, the Sharks will start the 2007-08 season with three All-Stars on their first line: Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo, and Patrick Marleau.

Could this be the most dangerous line in the NHL? It’s definitely a valid argument.

“If we stick together, that’s what we want to be,” said Cheechoo, referencing his line’s ability to top the League elite. At 27, the Moose Factory, Ontario native is the youngest of the three, but led the Sharks in goals last season (37) and led the NHL in goals (56) in 2005-06.

At Monday morning’s practice, Ron Wilson had “Big Joe”, “Cheech” and “Patty” all dressed in white uniforms, skating together at Sharks Ice at San Jose. It’s hard not to notice their size and speed, even among the Sharks outrageously quick squad. And it’s hard not to wonder what kind of damage they’re capable of doing.

“I like our chances against anyone in the League to be honest,” said Thornton, who at six-foot-four and 235 pounds, is the largest forward on the roster. “I don’t know if that’s over confident or not, but it is a heck of a line and we just have to prove it every night now.”

Between the three players is a laundry list of credentials. Eight All-Star Game appearances, ten hat tricks, an Art Ross Trophy, a Hart Memorial Trophy, and a Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy to name a few. The only thing missing is a Stanley Cup.

Thornton will anchor Marleau at left wing and Cheechoo on the right when the Sharks open up their regular season against Edmonton on Thursday. Keep in mind that lines can change at any time, but if Monday’s practice is any indication of how Wilson wants to assemble his troops, Thornton will start of the season with two of the best wingers in the business.

“Patty’s a good all-around player,” Thornton said of his captain. “He has lighting fast speed, a super shot and he sees the ice very, very well.

“Obviously Cheech’s strength is shooting the puck,” said Thornton speaking of his right wing. “He gets into the goal scoring areas and he retrieves pucks really well. I probably have the easiest job in sports right now centering those two guys.”

Cheechoo is just as happy to be playing alongside Thornton. Since the Hart Memorial Trophy winner joined Cheechoo in San Jose in 2005, the two have been one of the most productive pairs in the NHL. Thornton has assisted on 69 of Cheechoo’s 86 goals since December 2, 2005.

“I’ve played with Joe for going on two years now and you always know what you’re going to get with him,” said Cheechoo. “If you give him the puck, he’s going to make something happen.”

Over the past four seasons Thornton has been the NHL’s top points producer, tallying 110 goals and 303 assist in 317 games. His passes have surgical precision and any wing he plays with reaps the benefits of his strength and accuracy. Now that he’s lined up with two natural-born scorers, there’s no telling how many points his line can generate.

“When you play with good players you become better as a player yourself and we’re just having a lot of fun” added Thornton. “Who knows how long we’ll stay for, but it’s definitely a fun line to be a part of right now.”

The only person who knows how long this threesome will stay together is Wilson. Depending on how the team does, this line could stay intact for one shift, one game, or throughout the season. But with Marleau playing wing, young players like Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell will to get more experience at center and the captain will to get more opportunities to score.

“Patty on the wing allows a young player to play his natural position,” said Wilson.

Marleau holds franchise records for games played (717), goals (219), assists (272), points (491), power-play goals (67) and game-winning goals (41) after playing nine seasons for the Sharks. The captain was selected by San Jose second overall in the 1997 Draft. Joe Thornton, originally drafted by the Boston Bruins, was the first overall pick.

“He (Marleau) is playing with the most dangerous center in hockey. He can center a second line and have 70 points or play wing on the first line and have 110 points.”

I think we can all guess which one Marleau would rather have.

The game time of the Sharks game at Colorado this Sunday has been move from 6:00 pm local (Mountain) to 5:00 pm local (Mountain), or 4:00 pm Pacific.
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