In his third full season with the Sharks, Joe Thornton
leads San Jose and is tied for 11th in overall NHL scoring with 56 points on 12 goals and 44 assists. The NHL's leader in assists the past three seasons, his 44 so far this season trails only Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, who has 55, and Sidney Crosby with 49. Joe also leads the Sharks with a +22 plus-minus rating. With a record of 37-7-6 for 78 points, the Sharks lead the Western Conference.
They begin the longest road trip of the season tomorrow when they meet the Columbus Blue Jackets. On Tuesday Joe will turn to TD Banknorth Garden for only the second time since being traded in November of 2005. The Sharks meet the first place overall Boston Bruins at 4 p.m. Pacific time on VERSUS.
Q. A lot has been said about rookie coach Todd McLellan, but can you tell me a little bit about what Jay Woodcroft has meant to your team?JOE THORNTON
: He's been great. He actually takes care of all the video part and some of the on-ice stuff. But he breaks down the good things, the bad things in our game right then, and he works one-on-one with us after and at practices and things like that. He's been a great addition to the whole coaching staff.
Q. Also, could you tell me about the additions of Blake and Boyle and what that's allowed your offense to do knowing you've had those two back there on the defensive line?JOE THORNTON
: Yeah, they've been great. They obviously play big, big minutes. They play both power play and penalty kill. They're two stud defensemen that definitely should be up for Norris consideration. They've been great. They give confidence to the other defensemen on our team, and they're good veteran guys that have won Stanley Cups, so you know you can rely on guys like that, too.
Q. Obviously you want to make this one last longer than the last one. The fact that that game was so short for you a few years ago when you were here shortly after the deal, did that kind of leave a bad taste in your mouth- Do you kind of want to play a complete game now?JOE THORNTON
: Well, yeah. It's hockey and you kind of expect the unexpected, but obviously you want to play the full 60 minutes. It ended up working out well because I think we won, I'm not sure what the score was but we won pretty big that night. It worked out good; I got to eat some popcorn in the room and everything. But yeah, the plan is to play a full game and to have a good game.
Q. Why are the Sharks better this year? What's going on with that team? Is it moving the puck better from the back end?JOE THORNTON
: Well, I think with the new coach we just tweaked our system a little bit, plus we added some big players on the point, so I think when you add all that together, you're going to have a pretty good season, I guess.
Q. I'm actually working on a story on Mike Grier and would like to know from your standpoint, how would you describe his importance to the team? JOE THORNTON
: He's a big part of our team. He brings a lot of leadership, a lot of character. He's huge on the penalty kill. He blocks shots, does all the little things that don't get maybe noticed on the stats sheet and things like that. But he's a big part of this team. Yeah, he's been through a lot of wars, so you definitely can lean on a guy like that, especially for the young guys that expect what's to come down here in the last 30 games here plus the post-season.
Q. I covered the Sabres for a number of years, including the time when he was there, and I recall a lot of the players when he left saying how much he was missed in the locker room because he always seemed to have a knack to say the perfect thing at the perfect time. Have you been exposed to that, and do you have any examples by any chance?JOE THORNTON
: Yeah, he's just a real positive guy, and I think when something needs to be said, I think a guy like him can stand up no problem and address the room, and he's done that in the past. I have no examples, but he is good with talking in the room and calming guys down if it's a situation that needs to be handled a little bit or fire the guys up. So he has a good pulse on the team.
Q. Is his family's background a popular topic in the dressing room-JOE THORNTON
Q. What comes up about that, and how do you think the family background (Mike’s father and brother work in the NFL) has impacted his development as a hockey player, even though we're talking about different sports?JOE THORNTON
: No, I think just his dedication to sport, obviously his family is into football, one is in Houston, one is in Miami. No, it comes up a lot. We love talking about football because we usually have Sundays off, so he knows quite a bit about it. I think he reads your magazine front to back, as well. He's well-groomed in the sports category area.
No, I think for his father just to be part of the NFL, I think he just learned a lot of discipline from him and maybe just leadership qualities from his dad. Yeah, he's just a tremendous teammate.
Q. Just kind of going back to the return to Boston, lots of time has passed, lots of water under the bridge. Are you still in touch with a lot of the players there? I can't even imagine that there would be very many guys that remain from when you played there. JOE THORNTON
: No, there's not. Well, I still talk to PJ once in a while, but I think he came in the same year as me, and that's about the only one that really started with me. Timmy Thomas was there a little bit and Patrice Bergeron was there, but that's pretty much it on the player side. You talk to the trainers a little bit here and there and the equipment guys, but everything else has pretty much all changed there.
Q. So is it then easier to go back in a situation like that, because even though it's the team where you started, there's I guess the sense that it is another game, an important game because they're the top team in the east?JOE THORNTON
: Yeah, really that's all it is to me. There aren’t too many ex-teammates over there, and it's just really an important game in the schedule. They're the best in the east, and we're the best in the west. So it's an important game that way rather than I'm playing against friends, I think.
Q. And then just one final follow-up. There's some of us that are imagining, like occasionally there are upsets in the playoffs, but sometimes the top teams get through, and if the top teams do get through this year, there would be a San Jose-Boston Stanley Cup final, which I guess from your perspective would look good because it means you're competing for the Stanley Cup. Do you allow your mind to wander, or is it too dangerous to do that because you've got to get there first?JOE THORNTON
: You wander a little bit, but obviously we've still got a lot of hockey to work out here. If that were to be the case it would be great because both teams made it there, but I think both teams would agree we've still got a lot of work ahead of us.
Q. Just to go back to that Boston game three years ago, the fans gave you a pretty good ride. You did not hang around long to get booed more, but they gave you a pretty good ride. Do you expect the same thing this time?JOE THORNTON
: I don't think you expect anything. I think you go in with no expectations. That's how I'll go into Tuesday's game, just with no expectations again.
Q. Do you have any regrets about what happened in Boston, or is that passed?JOE THORNTON
: I have no regrets at all. That's years and years ago. I had no regrets when I played there and when I left, no.
Q. How about the feeling of being traded at that time? What did it mean to you when you got traded at that time? JOE THORNTON
: Well, I was never traded in juniors, so that was my first dose of getting traded. It was a little weird, a little emotional to be leaving. But really, after I got traded, from that night on, it was tough, and then the morning came and I flew and I met my new teammates with the Sharks. After that first 24 hours, I don’t think it was hard, it was just back to business, I think. It wasn't too tough after that.
Q. About this season, McLellan obviously comes in with a winning pedigree from last year especially, but I guess you could expect that you guys would be a good team, but did you expect that it would be like this?JOE THORNTON
: Well, you expect it to be good because I think with having Dan Boyle
, I don't think too many people outside of Tampa really knew how good he was. But I played with him in the world championships and things like that, so I expected him to make a big impact. And Rob Blake, we played him here in California all the time. So I knew those two guys were going to make a big impact, but I just didn't know how big. I think with those two guys coming here, our expectations were really high. But to have the start we are, I don't think anybody expected that, no.
Q. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're still with Setoguchi and Marleau, correct?JOE THORNTON
Q. There seems to be a pretty good chemistry there, and all three of you guys were in Montreal for All-Star weekend there, as well, which must have been pretty special to have a whole line there. Where do you think it all stems from, that chemistry, if you can just break it down a little bit?JOE THORNTON
: Well, I think you look at Patty and he has tremendous speed and so does Seto. They both shoot the puck really, really well. They both see the ice well. I'm a big believer in good players make each other into great players. I think that's the case with us. We're all good players, and when you put us together, we become better players. All three of us have good hockey sense, and I think when you throw three guys in a line that have good hockey sense, usually good things come out of it.
Q. McLellan keeps pushing the right buttons. What's different with him in the room with him as the coach this year? Has much changed?JOE THORNTON
: Not too much to be honest with you. I think just our daily approach is just a little bit different. We just really focus in on that day. I think in years past we kind of looked maybe too far ahead, and this year we're just working out our kinks now, and we're working hard each and every day and focusing on that day. I think that's probably going to be the difference.
Q. Does the Stanley Cup from last year ever get brought up? Does he ever bring it up and say this is what works?JOE THORNTON
: It does come up a little bit, and we saw his ring when we went to Detroit and the Red Wings came to the rink. So we do talk about it a little bit, what championship teams do. So it's nice having a coach that has been there and done that.
Q. You were talking about the Boston thing. Have you ever understood why or got an explanation why you were traded? JOE THORNTON
: Really, I don't really know. I know at the time I can remember the team wasn't doing so well. But no, I really don't know or I don't think anybody knows other than a couple people why that happened. But yeah, I still don't know.
Q. You said there's not a lot of people associated with the team in terms of players that are still there. Do you still have friends in the community that it will be pretty cool to reunite with for at least one day?JOE THORNTON
: Yeah, my brother still lives in Boston. He goes to school there at Boston University. It's going to be nice to see him. Yeah, I've still got quite a few friends there from over the years. I started when I was 18, so that's a lot of good friends that I still have there. So it'll be nice when we get a couple days off, which will be good to kind of go visit some people that I need to.
Q. And the last question would be this weekend, in different circumstances, but obviously Marian Hossa will go back to Pittsburgh this weekend and back to one of his old teams, albeit he didn't play there that long. Maybe he gets a little bit of a cool reception. Any advice for Marian when he goes in there, how to deal with it?JOE THORNTON
: No, I just think you go in with no expectations, and that's about it, really. You've just got to go play your game. That's the bottom line.
Q. I'm calling from Swedish television, and I was just wondering, why is San Jose playing better than Detroit this season? JOE THORNTON
: We've been real consistent since day one, and that's probably the one thing is just our consistency. We try to play hard each and every night, and we've got lots of talent. I think when you work hard and you're consistent, you're going to get results. I think that's the case this year.
Q. And Douglas Murray
has a lot of fans here in Sweden. What can you say about him and his season so far?JOE THORNTON
: He's had a great season, actually. He's just so big and strong, and he just controls the puck when he has it. But he's been great for us all year long. He plays big minutes for us on the penalty kill and things like that. But he's been a big, huge part of our success.
Q. When you're looking back now in hindsight at getting traded and going to San Jose and everything, how beneficial was the trade from Boston to San Jose and going from one situation to the other for your career? JOE THORNTON
: Well, I think it's worked out well for me, obviously. But you know, I thought it was going good in Boston, as well, though. I don't think there was anything wrong there to be honest with you. But I think just being a little bit older, I think now -- I was young then and now I'm just maturing to be an adult now. So I think just maturity-wise you get to know the game a little bit better, you get more confidence, and you just know your body a little bit more.
I think it just really is two parts of a hockey player that I was.
Q. Did you use that trade as motivation or like you kind of maybe had to prove something to somebody after the fact?JOE THORNTON
: No, not at all. You just play hockey, and that's what I do. I'm a hockey player. But no motivation or anything like that. You just have to earn respect from your new teammates, and that's about it. But there's no new motivation. You have enough on yourself that you don't need any more.
Q. How different for you personally is it going to be going back to Boston this time than last time? Maybe a lot less emotional than the last time you were there?JOE THORNTON
: Yeah, I feel like I've been a Shark for a long time now. It'll be a little bit funny, but I don't think now, being through it once before, I don't think it's going to be a big challenge for me.
Q. And when you kind of look back on that one other time, that five minutes and 13 seconds that you were actually in the game, what sticks out in your mind just from that day going back? Is there anything that you really kind of think of when you think of that day?JOE THORNTON
: Just how weird and awkward it was to be honest with you. It just felt really strange to be on a different side on the bench and skating a different way. Just a little bit awkward, I think.
Q. I just wonder if you could walk me through what a typical week for a pro hockey player is, the rhythms of the week with practice and games and whether there's a particular day that you think you do better on or look forward to playing on or something like that?JOE THORNTON
: Pretty much typical days are you play a Tuesday, a Thursday and a Saturday, and on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday you usually have practice at 11:00 o'clock. So you wake up 9:00-ish, quarter to 9:00-ish, go to the rink, grab some breakfast and away you go. And then after practice there might be a little light workout or things like that. Then usually home, and then here in California you can sit out by the pool if you like and then play some Tiger Woods in the afternoon, and then dinner time and then maybe see a movie or watch a TV show on television, then just do it all over again the next day.
I like Saturdays personally. I like Saturday night games. They seem to be fun.
Q. Why is that?JOE THORNTON
: I don't know, just -- well, we sell out every night here, so it's really just -- if you're on the road, usually Saturday nights will be sold out on the road and there's quite a good atmosphere in the building. Saturday nights, it's Hockey Night in Canada, too. You to get to watch Don Cherry on TV.