Friday, January 18, 2002
Joe's Olympic talk Bruin
By BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun
BOSTON -- Joe Thornton is ready to go to battle for his country in Salt Lake City.
All Team Canada GM Wayne Gretzky has to do is ask.
The Boston Bruins centre wasn't among the 23 roster invitees to next month's Olympic Games, but if Mario Lemieux or Eric Lindros or Theoren Fleury can't make it, Thornton's made it clear he's only a phone call away.
"I wasn't really stung by the fact I wasn't invited because I didn't really expect to go anyway," Thornton said yesterday. "It would be a great experience, but I'm not sitting here worrying about it. (But) if they have injuries and they need people, it would be great to go."
Nobody asked Florida Panthers coach Mike Keenan for his opinion, but recently he's been telling anyone who will listen that Gretzky and his staff made a mistake not selecting the 6-foot-4 Thornton for Salt Lake.
Keenan was Thornton's coach last season and might be the guy who finally pushed him to excel.
After questioning Thornton's commitment, Keenan the taskmaster worked the youngster hard to make him realize his talents. That's why Keenan believes Thornton is ready for Team Canada.
"I think he'd be an excellent choice for that team," Keenan said recently. "The guy has got everything. He's big, he's strong and he can skate. He's not afraid to play a physical game. He'd be good on that (larger Olympic) ice surface.
"I only spent a year with him in Boston, but you talk to this kid and he's a great kid. I know the way the international game is played and I really think this guy should be there."
Thornton's Bruins teammates can't help but like him. He's got a carefree attitude off the ice and he takes a serious business approach once the puck is dropped.
Only 22, he's still got the boyish good looks and the long hair. Talk to him and you'd swear this guy would fit right in as a beach bum in Los Angeles. Thornton has the ability to make people around him laugh and bring fans out of their seats.
"I think he's got the speed of a Mike Modano and the grit of a guy like Mark Messier," said Bruins defenceman Jamie Rivers. "To me, that's a pretty good combination.
"He's a really good player who uses his size to his advantage and he's a great guy ... I think what's (allowed) him to survive in this game is his personality. The guy loves life."
Still, it wasn't just his personality that got him selected to this year's edition of the North American NHL all-star team. Going into last night's game against Ottawa, the London native was second in league scoring with 19 goals and 51 points.
Those are heady numbers, but Thornton has been resigned to his fate on the Olympic bubble since September, when he wasn't asked to attend Team Canada's orientation camp.
"I knew where I stood because I wasn't invited," said Thornton. "I saw (centres) like Lemieux, (Steve) Yzerman, (Joe) Sakic and (Mike) Peca. I knew it was going to be tough. I didn't really get upset at not being selected.
"I get asked about this all the time (by the Canadian media). But, I don't even think about it.
"And when you look at all the centres, to think that I was even considered for (Team Canada) is great."
Right now, Thornton should have more than Team Canada's consideration, he should have its full attention.
And if Gretzky and Co. need a centre -- all they have to do is ask.
2002 Games Men's Hockey Coverage