Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Thornton eager to experience MTS Centre atmosphere

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IT'S been out there for a while now, this notion that the hockey crowd here in Winnipeg is nuts, and word has spread as far as one of the NHL's furthest outposts.

So, San Jose Sharks' captain Joe Thornton, what have you heard about the atmosphere at the MTS Centre?

"A lot," said Thornton Wednesday with a grin. "We've heard that the Jets are really potent here and like playing in front of these fans and these fans have been unbelievable."

When it was pointed out to Thornton that the star players on the opposition have been booed regularly by Jets' faithful, Thornton said:

"Am I a star? We'll have to wait and see.... I don't mind getting booed. I'm really excited. I've never been here and I circled this one on the calendar in July when I heard I was coming here. As a kid I always followed the Canadian teams and the Jets were one of them. It's going to be fun. I heard the building has a lot of energy and that the fans have embraced this team."

Added head coach Todd McLellan, a product of Melville, Sask., who has been to Winnipeg while coaching in the IHL and AHL:

"I'm really excited. It's a great opportunity for us to get back to the roots of hockey, if you will. My last experience here in Winnipeg was in the American league and at that time it was a very passionate city, very knowledgeable and passionate fans and I'm sure that's grown even more with the changeover to the National Hockey League.

"I have some friends that live in the Winnipeg and that's all they talk about, the Jets. And they should be very proud they have their team here and the community will do a good job of supporting it and keeping it here."

A number of Sharks players, including Patrick Marleau of Aneroid, Sask., will have family in the barn today against the Jets.

And then there is the return of two Sharks with Winnipeg connections: former MJHL star Andy Murray of Selkirk and Frazer McLaren, who played high school hockey at Kelvin.

"It's crazy... I can't even imagine what it might be like," said McLaren, a River Heights product who played one year at Kelvin before heading off to the WHL. "I played here a couple of years ago against the Manitoba Moose and that was an unbelievable experience. It's almost surreal to be playing in the NHL now. I heard that when the Bruins were here they said it was louder than when they won the Stanley Cup. I've heard from other scouts that it's just electric around the rink and in the rink, so I'm pretty excited."

"It's exciting," added Murray, who had 75 goals in 127 games over two years with the Steelers before heading to Bemidji State. "Obviously this city is really into it right now and buzzing. I've had to line up a few (tickets). I've been fortunate, a lot of people have been trying to round up tickets since the schedule came out and I signed with San Jose (after four years in Columbus). It's been a little bit easier, but I'm sure the calls will start to flood in here shortly."

-- THE COACH'S TAKE: Here's McLellan on his two 'Tobans:

-- On McLaren: "Frazer is a very big man who basically missed a year because of a hip injury. He's a very rugged guy that's prepared to take care of teammates, good along the boards and contributes day in and day out when we use him."

-- On Murray: "Andy Murray is a very good skater. Quick, fast, darts in and creates on the forecheck. We call him a professional worker bee, if there's any such thing. That's Andy Murray in a nutshell."

-- FOR THE GAMBLERS: These numbers courtesy of Bodog (www.Bodgo.ca):

Who will win the Southeast Division?

Washington Capitals: 4/9

Florida Panthers: 14/5

Winnipeg Jets: 13/2

Tampa Bay Lightning: 30/1

Carolina Hurricanes: 100/1

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter:@WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2012 C2

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