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Thornton's Presence Felt

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
It’s been a full month since the San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins shook up the entire hockey world by announcing a blockbuster trade that sent Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau to Boston in exchange for Joe Thornton. In what was undoubtedly the biggest trade in franchise history, the Sharks have benefited from the move, as evidenced by their 8-4-1 record.

Previous to acquiring Thornton, Team Teal could not find their way out of a 10-game losing streak, amassing an 8-12-4 record. The big center ignited the Sharks offense instantaneously upon his arrival, as the team rattled off six wins in a row, scoring four or more goals in eight straight games.

“I think both teams needed a spark and had to get something done,” Thornton said. “Both teams were struggling and it made sense to shake things up.”

When news hit that Thornton would be in teal on Dec. 2 in Buffalo for his first game, many fans and critics questioned whether the Sharks would put him on the same line as Captain Patrick Marleau. Head Coach Ron Wilson instead opted to put Marleau on the second line where he would go on to post one of his top months as a Shark.

In 13 games in December, Marleau flourished on the second line, scoring 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) while earning NHL Player of the Week honors on Dec. 4. Some of Marleau’s success can be attributed to playing with Thornton on power plays.

“He’s a good guy to have around in the locker room,” Marleau said of his newest teammate. “Now that he’s gotten used to everybody he’s always joking around and never has a bad day, so that part of it brings the team up. As far as on the ice, I think everyone has seen what he can do and it’s a pleasure having him on our team.”

It has been noted by many players and coaches around the league that Thornton is vastly known for making players around him better. Much like another famous Joe (Pro Football Hall of Famer Montana) from the Bay Area sports scene, Thornton is the equivalent of a quarterback, picking spots to cut the defense and feed his teammates. Two such teammates are Nils Ekman and Jonathan Cheechoo.

In four games since Ekman has been moved to Thornton’s line, the left wing, who has struggled throughout the early part of the season, has become one of the team’s top producers. Ekman posted seven points (two goals, five assists) during that span, earning his spot on Thornton’s line.

“He’s a great guy and a great leader,” Ekman said. “We’re playing better and scoring a lot more goals. He makes other people around him better and that’s just an example of his leadership.”

Speaking of top producers, no one on the team has produced more when it comes to goals than Cheechoo. The Moose Factory, Ontario native found the back of the net an NHL-best 13 times in December.

“Joe’s arrival has given some guys some rejuvenation,” Marleau said. “When you get a chance to play with Joe you want to make sure you’re at your best. I think you’ve seen that with ‘Cheech’ and now ‘Ek.’ They’re both playing great.”

Thornton has also done his share of producing since his arrival. He notched 21 points (five goals, 16 assists) in the month of December, finishing second in the Offensive Player of the Month voting behind the Rangers Jaromir Jagr. Thornton also kept the Offensive Player of the Week honor in the family, earning the award the week after Marleau did.

But anyone who knows Thornton knows that the St. Thomas, Ontario native would never take full credit for the teams recent turn around.

“I think everyone has been playing well, not just me coming in,” Thornton said. “All 20 guys are playing well, we’re getting great goaltending and we’re playing good on special teams, so it’s been a whole team effort to get this thing going.”

One of those 20 players Thornton talks about is Grant Stevenson. In his rookie season with the Sharks, the impressionable center has had the opportunity to play on the same line as Marleau thanks to Thornton’s arrival. Stevenson does not take for granted his opportunity to play along side some of the game’s top players.

“There are a lot of young guys on this team,” Stevenson said. “Guys like (Scott) Hannan, Patty and Joe are the leaders and guys that we look up to. Being able to play with them and watch their work ethic makes you want to work that much harder and be the kind of players they are. It’s an honor to be able to play with them.”

A date that has been circled on every hockey fan’s calendar since the day of the big trade is Jan. 10 when Thornton and the Sharks travel to Boston to take on the Bruins. It will be interesting to see how Bruins fans welcome their former star at the Fleet Center.

“Whatever reception I get, it won’t really matter,” Thornton said. “They’ve been great to me the last seven or eight years of my life, so hopefully it’s a good one. You never really want to go back to boos, but you never know.”

No matter what happens in his return to Boston, Thornton feels 100 percent comfortable with his new home in the Bay Area.

“It’s been great here,” he said. “I finally moved into a house and have gotten comfortable with the area. The adjustments have gone really smooth for me. I’m a Shark and I love being out here in California. I’m excited to be out here playing for this team.”

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