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Jim Adams: Thornton: The man to watch this season

He simply is not your average Joe. In fact, in hockey circles he is often known as Super Joe or Jumbo Joe.

Regardless of the vernacular one might use to describe one of the NHL’s most profound impact players, there is no doubt that Joe Thornton is a man among boys, a marquee performer, a teammate who can take a game and change its course in a matter of moments. He is arguably the San Jose Sharks’ Franchise player, one of the most entertaining contributors to the aura known as The National Hockey League. He is, frankly speaking, one of the very best the game has to offer, the type of person who makes the price of admission a worthwhile investment.

Yet, as the curtain rises on the San Jose Sharks season tonight at HP Pavilion, this game has more potential subplots than a Stephen King novel. It is with great anticipation that Joe and Company make their 2007/08 debut.



Thornton came to the Sharks in a blockbuster trade orchestrated by General Manager Doug Wilson and the late John Ferguson in November, 2005. San Jose swapped three players to the Boston Bruins. It would be labeled one of the most lopsided trades of the decade. When Wilson called Ferguson to ask his opinion, he quickly quipped, “Are you kidding me? You are talking about Joe Thornton. Hang up the phone and make the trade now!”

He came to San Jose and almost instantly transformed the team from a struggling squad with a lack of identity, to a juggernaut that provided more hockey excitement than Northern California had ever known. In route, he would be named the league’s Most Valuable Player while line mate Jonathan Cheechoo would win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard award for the NHL’s top goal scorer. It seemed like he heartily contributed almost every night as fans were left in awe of how he dominated the game.




Boston never really recovered. Their season unraveled with substandard play and a fan base that called for (and received) the ouster of several top franchise executives.

Thus, the Bruins provide us with the first subplot. They make their one and only visit tonight. Whereas Thornton will have great incentive to put on a major demonstration, the Bruins look for vindication and respect. It should be an especially entertaining tilt.

Looking for Factor #2? The Sharks also have something to prove. The last time the home town faithful witnessed this team first hand, they were hanging their heads after a premature exit from the Stanly Cup Playoffs. It has been a long, agonizing five months since the Detroit Red Wings bid San Jose a not-so-fond adieu. The level of intensity should be at its early season pinnacle.

As he pondered the early playoff departure, Thornton would remark, “It was very disappointing. When you get down to those final four teams, you want to continue. We can only learn from last year. We are close to where we need to be.”

Indeed, he believes this is the place to play. Not only did he sign a four year extension during the off-season that will keep him in San Jose long after 2011, his statement paved the way for Patrick Marleau, Craig Rivet, and Milan Michalek to follow suit.

“This is a good group of guys. I felt if I signed, some other guys would follow.”

Thus emerges another subplot. Expectations. Goals. Hoisting the Stanley Cup. Tonight is the first chapter of that long and hopefully eventful story.

“We know a lot more this year. We know where other players should be and we push each other. These guys are finding their groove,” noted Thornton. “We do not have to do much to get over the hump. We were close last year and really need that extra effort this year.”

Coming off of their first four game road swing, the team was an impressive 2-1-1. Two victories in Chicago and Vancouver were complemented by an overtime loss in Edmonton and a debacle in Denver. There is still a lot to prove, significant ground to cover.

Yet, if this truly is to be the year of unequaled success, it will undoubtedly be Jumbo Joe, Super Joe, Franchise Joe who makes the biggest statement. It all begins tonight in San Jose. The cast of characters is truly assembled. On paper, this team is a championship squad. However, the Stanley Cup is decided on the ice. The skeptics need to be answered. Thus, the story unfolds at the Shark Tank tonight. Sharks/Bruins, 7:30. Thornton revisited. The electricity of the premiere performance. The march to the playoffs and beyond. The night hockey widows most dread.

ooo

Jim Adams, lives in Nevada City, is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. He may be reached via e-mail at adamses@inreach.com.


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