Thornton, Sharks ready for Winnipeg crowd

Sharks captain Joe Thornton looks up from the face-off circle during a game against the Red Wings...

Sharks captain Joe Thornton looks up from the face-off circle during a game against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Mich., May 10, 2011. (REBECCA COOK/Reuters)

KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:48 PM ET

WINNIPEG - Joe Thornton insists he isn’t going to be offended.

When informed that star players from opposing teams have been getting booed by the hometown fans inside MTS Centre every time they touch the puck, the San Jose Sharks captain shrugged and showed his sense of humour when he met with reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

“Am I a star? We’ll have to wait and see,” deadpanned the London, Ont., product, who has eight goals and 35 points this season. “It’ll be fine. I don’t mind getting booed.”

Thornton is happy to see Winnipeg back in the NHL and he’s heard plenty about the reputation of the fans who fill the MTS Centre.

“We’ve heard the Jets are really potent here, like playing in front of these fans and that the fans are unbelievable,” said Thornton, whose Sharks face the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday at 7:35 p.m. “This is a game I had circled on my calendar when the schedule came out in July. As a kid, I always followed the Canadian teams and the Jets were one of them. It’s natural for them to be back. Going to a new city, a new building is always fun.”

The contest is sure to be special for the two Manitobans on the Sharks’ roster, forwards Andrew Murray of Selkirk and Winnipegger Frazer McLaren.

Both players were battling to scrounge up roughly 20 tickets for friends and family members and were eager to be playing at MTS Centre for the first time since their AHL days.

“It feels like yesterday that I was living here and playing high school hockey,” said McLaren, who suited up for the Kelvin Clippers for a season before joining the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League in 2003-04. “This is crazy. 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 an NHL game here. I’ve heard it’s just electric in the rink. I’m excited.”

After spending six seasons in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization, the 30-year-old Murray signed with the Sharks as a free agent this summer and has a goal and three points in 33 games this season.

“We’ve got a really good team and I’m trying to contribute any way that I can,” said Murray, a Manitoba Junior Hockey League graduate who played for the Selkirk Steelers before accepting a scholarship to Bemidji State University. “It’s an older group with a lot of world-class players. You look down the lineup and there’s a lot of firepower and a lot of good leadership.

“It’s a team that’s been close for a while and hasn’t been able to get over that hump. It’s just a matter of time and hopefully, this is the year.”

“We call him a professional worker bee, that’s Andy Murray in a nutshell,” added Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. “He’s a very good skater, quick, fast. He darts in and creates on the forecheck.”

McLaren, a bruising left-winger, has been limited to five games this season (no points, nine penalty minutes) because of a hip injury that required surgery but he’s made significant progress in his development since his first full professional season in 2008-09.

“Frazer is a very rugged guy that is prepared to take care of teammates, is good along the boards and contributes day-in-and-day-out when we use him,” said McLellan.


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