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Florida Panthers Pregame: Jumbo Joe Thornton to face ‘friendly’ Sharks

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Joe Thornton has only played a handful of games for the Florida Panthers this month — but Jumbo is back in the lineup to face the San Jose Sharks for the first time since leaving as a free agent in 2020. // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

After 1,104 games, 251 goals, and 1,055 points as a member of the San Jose Sharks, Joe Thornton will play them as an opponent for the first time since departing in 2020 — and he will do it as a member of the Florida Panthers.

He was traded to the Sharks in 2006 after eight seasons with the Boston Bruins.

He capped off that season with 125 points — including 92 points in 58 games after arriving in San Jose — winning both the Art Ross and Hart trophies.

The rest was history.

“As soon as I got there, I just fell in love with the place, I fell love with the people, the teammates were great,” Thornton said.

“It was just a great, great team, great ownership, and just good character guys.”

There has been no love lost between Thornton and his former Sharks teammates as he even got to catch up and get dinner with them on Friday.

“We shared some laughs, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Thornton said.

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He signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs initially during the 2020 offseason but never got to face the Sharks due to the NHL’s divisional set-up during the Covid-shortened 2020-21 season.

After the Leafs fell short in the first round against the Canadiens last season, Thornton signed with the Panthers over the offseason for another shot at a ring — albeit, in a lesser role.

During the 2021-22 season, the 42-year-old is putting up just six points (two goals four assists) dressing in 22 of Florida’s 42 games.

While he is not scoring at the rate he was even last season — where he had 20 points in 44 games — he is okay with that role.

“Not at all to be honest with you, I’m fitting in my role nice to be honest with you,” Thornton said when asked if there’s been an adjustment.

“It’s been great, it’s such a great team here, and when I talked to Bill Zito in the summer, I was like ‘alright, I want to join this crew, but I don’t mind not playing every night to be honest with you.'”

Still, he plays the role of veteran leader on this team — and it has provided a spark in the locker room at times.

“With Jumbo, we all know his resume, but he’s a very infectious guy, he brings a lot of energy and passion and a love for the game and guys love him,” Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette said.

“He’s been such a pleasure to be around and a pleasure to coach and he’s one of the guys that everyone has a smile face when they’re around them.”

When Brunette was asked how Thornton has impressed him during his Florida tenure, he said there were ‘a lot’ of reasons why.

“How he carries himself, the love of the game at his age, how much he enjoys being around the game, he’s still like a kid, it’s infectious to be around,” Brunette said.

“He’s out skating every day, he’s making his plays, he’s holding the puck, it’s like watching a young player.”

Brunette played against Thornton during his playing days, spanning from when Thornton made his NHL debut in 1997 until 2012.

“He’s a competitive guy on the ice and when you play against him over the years like I have, you probably don’t have as many good things to say about him because he’s a real competitive, strong guy that you can’t take the puck off — ever,” Brunette said.

“When I’m playing against him, I don’t have great things to say about him — I do have respectful things to say about him — but when you see him and you play with him, when you see what type of teammate and person he is, you have nothing bad to say about him.

Jumbo Joe had a longtime goal to score four goals in a game — for reasons… — but never got to hit it in his time in San Jose.

But Saturday night would be a special night for him to hit it.

“I actually went out dinner with Timo (Meier) and him with five, that’d be really, really special, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves with four,” Thornton said with a laugh after I asked him about it.

“I remember when Tommy (Hertl) did that and it was a special night.”

Morning Updates

  • Patric Hornqvist and Olli Juolevi both continue to be day-to-day with their injuries. It is looking more and more unlikely that either will return before the All-Star break, per Brunette.
  • Sergei Bobrovsky will start in goal against the Sharks on Saturday, Jonas Johansson backs him up with Spencer Knight down in Charlotte.
  • Thornton draws into the lineup for Frank Vatrano.

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK

SAN JOSE SHARKS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
  • Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise 
  • Tickets: CLICK HERE
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM, SiriusXM
  • NHL Betting Odds from BetUS: Florida favored (Money Line -320) — (Puck Line -1.5 -130) — Over/Under 6.5 (-105/-115)
  • Last season: Did not play
  • All-time regular season series: Florida leads 17-13-1, 7 ties

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