SAN JOSE, Calif. — Joe Thornton’s parents have figured he’s a good bet for Team Canada since receiving an endorsement from Don Cherry.
The host of “Coach’s Corner” said last month that the entire Sharks line of Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau should receive invitations to Vancouver because of their solid play and familiarity with one another. No one was happier to hear that than Jumbo Joe.
“You give him a fist pump and say ’That’s it, Don,”’ Thornton said Thursday when asked about his reaction to Cherry’s comments. “You enjoy hearing Don say that because it would be real nice to go as a threesome. My parents don’t know anything about hockey and they phone, ’Don Cherry said it so it must be true.’
“We’ll have to wait and see.”
When Steve Yzerman makes his final selections on Dec. 30, there might not be an organization better represented than the Sharks. In addition to the three forwards, defenceman Dan Boyle might also get the call.
Thornton was the NHL’s scoring leader entering Thursday’s play and Heatley and Marleau were both in the top 15. They’ve also spent a considerable amount of time together — although coach Todd McLellan has recently had them playing separately.
With only one practice together before playing Norway on Feb. 16, Team Canada could use some players with built-in chemistry.
“I think in a short tournament like that, I think for guys to be familiar with each other definitely helps,” said Thornton, a member of the 2006 Olympic team. “Me, Dany and Patty, we’ve been playing together for about eight or nine games now. I’m a little bit biased but I think it might help.”
Thornton and Heatley seem like a perfect on-ice marriage — a pairing of the league’s top playmaker and one of the game’s best snipers. Marleau is a versatile, all-around player who has breathtaking speed and can fill a variety of roles.
McLellan noted that his recent decision to split the line up isn’t likely to last very long.
“It’s not a divorce,” he said.
The coach was an assistant on Mike Babcock’s staff in Detroit before taking the Sharks job prior to last season. Defenceman Rob Blake, a three-time Canadian Olympian, believes that will work in favour of his teammates because of the similarity in coaching styles.
“The good thing with our team and the system they seem to want to play with Mike Babcock, is it’s what we do here, too,” said Blake.
Thornton was the only Olympic hopeful who acknowledged that Yzerman’s impending announcement is something he’s been thinking about, acknowledging that he’s wondered after some good games whether any of the management team had been watching. Heatley and Marleau both say they’ve been focused solely on the Sharks while Boyle claims it hasn’t been distracting for him because he “went down this road in 2006” and was only selected to the taxi squad.
McLellan doesn’t believe that’s entirely true for any of them.
“Probably deep down in the back of their mind it’s there,” he said. “They are doing what they can, one, to help our team and two, to qualify for that tournament. It would be a highlight in many of their careers to play in that.
“So for them to tell you they are not thinking about it, I think they are being real noble but somewhere in the backs of their minds its has to be there a little bit.”
It’s actually at the forefront of a lot of conversations about the team.
San Jose might end up sending as many as eight players to Vancouver — the four Canadians, centre Joe Pavelski (U.S.), defenceman Douglas Murray (Sweden) and goalies Evgeni Nabokov (Russia) and Thomas Greiss (Germany). The organization is happy to have so many guys eligible to take part.
“I want our players to have the opportunity to play best on best,” said GM Doug Wilson. “It’s a great experience, it allows you to grow as a player, especially in this situation. I support our guys. …
“I’d love to see up to eight of our guys play because I think they’d be deserving of that opportunity.”
The Canadians in his dressing room are especially anxious for Dec. 30 to arrive.
All four feel as though they’ve done enough to warrant selection, but acknowledge that Yzerman faces some tough choices. The opportunity to play an Olympics on home soil is alluring.
“It would be the biggest honour and the biggest stage you could play on,” said Marleau. “Why would I want to play? I could represent my country. There‘s a long list of reasons why you’d want to play.
“Playing on Canadian soil, playing in front of your home fans and family, there’s nothing else like it.”
Heatley was even more concise when asked why he wants to be part of Team Canada.
“To win the gold medal,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. People will have to play different roles. Anything it takes to win the gold.”