Volume 95, Issue 63

Thursday, January 24, 2002
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A workout with a champion to remember

Beating the "Joe drum" to death

Beating the "Joe drum" to death

Standing O
Ryan Dixon
Sports Editor

Trendy movements catch on far too quickly in this world. Unfortunately, the National Hockey League is no exception to this rule.

The way the Canadian media has been clamouring for Joe Thornton to be on the Canadian Olympic team you would think he regularly scores six goals a game, sells hot dogs in the stands and cures a different terminal illness each time he plays.

Don Cherry's tiresome crusade to get Thornton on the team is going to force the CBC to change the format of Coach's Corner. The segment may soon change to a montage of Cherry strangling every member of Canada's Olympic staff, including Wayne Gretzky using a tie emblazoned with Thornton's face.

Let's all take a deep breath.

Just because Thornton is tearing it up right now does not mean he is necessarily ready to be one of the elite players representing this country. He's talented, but he's young. He's big, but he's inexperienced and when you're battling the best players in the world in a single elimination format, you do not want 'go-to guys' on your team with a distinct shade of unseasoned green to them.

Canada already has its share of newcomers.

Eric Brewer, Simon Gange and Jarome Iginla are all first timers on this team but, with the possible exception of Iginla, there is a major difference between those players and Thornton – monster expectations.

It's one thing to go into these "best on best" tournaments as a young gun with a limited role. The objective clearly is to gain experience so that next time around, you're in a position to lead the team.

Brewer is going to Salt Lake City to be a seventh defenceman, Gange will be the thirteenth forward. Thornton, on the other hand, is being hailed as the guy who can lead Canada to gold. There is little doubt that one day he'll be capable of that, but right now that's a lot of pressure to put on a 22-year-old, no matter who he is.

Let's not forget that pressure is not exactly something Thornton has responded well to in the past. When he came to Boston as the first pick overall in the NHL Entry Draft, he flopped under unfair expectations, not unlike the ones being conjured up by members of the media right now. It took a solid three years before Thornton even resembled anything close to a superstar.

Just a reminder here – this is a two week tournament. There is not exactly an excess of time for Thornton to find his stride if he once again feels the immense burden high expectations bring.

The hockey mad (or perhaps just plain mad) Canadian media conjure these things up to ensure they'll have some fodder to rip the team if they don't win gold.

Put it this way: if the media need a band wagon now to support the "put Joe on the team" campaign, you better believe the "if only Joe was there" movement will require an entire tractor trailer to provide enough room for all the ignorant media personnel that will flock to that cause.

Thornton may yet land on this team because of an injury, imagined or otherwise, to a current player on the roster. If Thornton does wind up on the team and helps carry Canada to gold, let's hope Joe's hype goes the way of the Beatles – not Vanilla Ice.

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Copyright The Gazette 2001