SAN JOSE – Sharks captain Joe Thornton didn’t waste any time going overseas when the lockout began, and was one of the first NHL players to commit to a team. It was an easy choice going to HC Davos in Switzerland, where he spent the canceled season of 2004-05 and where he owns a residence with his wife, a Swiss native.
The lockout now over, Thornton hopped on a direct flight from Zurich to San Francisco on Wednesday morning, with his wife (now pregnant and due in June) and two-and-a-half year old daughter in tow. He skated with several of his teammates on Thursday at Sharks Ice in another informal skate as the players prepare for the start of an abbreviated training camp.
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“Going through it in 2004, I just didn’t know when it was going to end, so I just thought pack my bags and go right away and get in shape. I’m glad I did it,” Thornton said. “I enjoyed my time over there, and it was good for my wife and baby. They could see their grandpa and grandma and things like that, but we’re glad to be home now.”
Thornton’s numbers were solid in the Swiss league, with 36 points (12g, 24a) in 33 games. He should be as prepared as any player in the league for the 48-game shortened season, which will begin on Jan. 20 in Calgary.
“I feel good, I feel healthy,” Thornton said. “I played some games, so hopefully I have a little advantage on the other guys.”
Of course, he also had to be a bit cautious. Thornton still has two years remaining on his current deal with the Sharks, including a pro-rated $7 million salary this season and $6 million in 2013-14. He’s still just 33 years old, so he likely has at least one more lucrative contract in his future.
Thornton was the Sharks’ most consistent player from start to finish last season, quietly recording 77 points (18g, 59a) in 82 games. His 59 assists were tied for third in the league.
“You’re careful, you’re careful,” he said. “You’re competing hard and you’re in games, but you have your head up and you know what’s around you. You play hard, but you know what the situation is, for sure, over there.”
Thornton had some company in Switzerland, too, in the form of Sharks teammate Logan Couture, who took Thornton’s advice to find a place to play during the labor battle. Couture suited up for Geneve-Servette in Geneva, and had 23 points (7g, 16a) in 22 games before returning to Canada on December 1.
The two didn’t spend much time together, as Geneva-to-Davos is a four-hour drive, but they did play each other twice.
“It’s definitely weird playing against each other, but it was fun,” Thornton said.
His advice to Couture was “just get over and play. He looked good and played well over there. For a young guy, just seeing a different culture is good. It’s just something different, and it was good that he went over and experienced that.”
Thornton is hopeful that the Sharks can excel in a shortened season.
“Hopefully it helps. We had some guys that were playing and some weren’t, so it’s a good mixture of guys, but until it’s played it’s so tough to say right now.”
“I think everybody knows how important it’s going to be getting off to a quick start. You definitely don’t want to lose three or four in a row or you’re behind the eight ball. It’s important to stay consistent, and get off to a quick start.”