SUNRISE, Fla. — It was a fascinating contrast during the Sharks post-practice media availability yesterday.
There was the joy from running into old friend Joe Thornton before practice. There was the reserve when asked about ostracized ex-teammate Evander Kane signing with division rival Edmonton Oilers.
But tonight is about Jumbo, as the San Jose Sharks face off against Thornton’s Florida Panthers.
“It’s like he never left.”
That’s how Marc-Edouard Vlasic described the Sharks meeting up with Thornton before practice yesterday.
“He’s got a great tan, especially in Florida. I knew when I saw him this morning he’d be without a T-shirt, you know, that’s his thing. He’s got longer hair,” Tomas Hertl reported.
“A great base tan right now,” laughed Logan Couture.
“It was just great to see him,” Hertl said, “still the same, happy guy.”
“It was a loud morning,” Brent Burns shared, smiling.
After 15 seasons in San Jose, Joe Thornton left the Sharks — as the franchise leader in assists and with a 2006 Hart Trophy — in the 2020 off-season to chase a Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs. This past summer, he joined the Florida Panthers, who are leading the Eastern Conference.
Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette confirmed this morning that Thornton was suiting up tonight. The 42-year-old has four goals and two assists in 22 games and has been a recent healthy scratch.
Because Thornton played in the Canada Division last year and in the East this season, this will be the first time that many Sharks, including Hertl, have seen Thornton since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020.
For Vlasic and Logan Couture, facing off against Thornton tonight will be especially strange.
Vlasic made his NHL debut in Joe Thornton’s second season in teal, on Oct. 5, 2006, Couture in Thornton’s fifth year, on Oct. 25, 2009. So the long-time Sharks have never played against Joe Thornton.
“It’ll be fun,” Couture said. “I think just his laughter and I’m sure he’ll enjoy it as much as we will.”
No matter what happens tonight or where Jumbo goes next, he’ll always be a Shark.
“He’s meant a lot to a lot of guys and it’s just good to see him,” Burns offered. “He’s got such a good personality and good energy.”
“There’s a lot of good feelings around what he’s given this organization,” head coach Bob Boughner said. “When you talk about the San Jose Sharks, he’s one of the first people you think about.”
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