Always looking to keep things light in the dressing room, Ron Wilson used to razz Joe Thornton about looking like actor Will Ferrell.
When Ferrell starred as figure skater Chazz Michael Michaels in the 2007 comedy spoof Blades of Glory, Wilson immediately began playfully mocking Thornton about it, whether it was behind closed doors or in front of the entire San Jose Sharks team
"He would stand there like he was the actual (Ferrell) character, pretending to have a drink, saying: "Look, this is the body of a figure skater,' " Thornton recalled with a laugh yesterday.
"Ronnie likes to have fun and keep things light like that. I love Ronnie as a coach."
After the Sharks' disappointing second-round exit at the hands of the Dallas Stars, Thornton thought Wilson would return to coach San Jose for the 2008-09 season, a scenario that became impossible when the veteran bench boss was relieved of his duties last month.
Now Wilson has landed in Toronto, handed the keys to a franchise that has not won a Stanley Cup in 41 years.
"When I got back from vacation last week and heard Ronnie might end up in Toronto, I had a big smile on my face," Thornton said in a phone interview. "I think he'll enjoy it and have fun with it. He never has been in a market like that.
"When he was out of work, I thought he easily was the best available candidate on the market and figured he could pretty much pick the place where he would work next."
Fairly or unfairly, Wilson, much like Thornton, has been tagged with the label of not being able to win "the big game." There also were rumblings that Wilson, on occasion, might show up a struggling player in front of the entire team.
Thornton does not think those are fair assessments of his former coach.
"Things have to fall into place perfectly to win a Stanley Cup," Thornton said. "We had four overtime games (versus Dallas) and it just didn't happen.
"He has made the Cup final before and led (the Sharks) to a Western Conference final but our recent second-round eliminations are disappointing to all of us. It's not all on him; this is a team game. He's a really good coach.
"As far as embarrassing guys, he does it sparingly, appropriately and professionally. I think he's very good at handling individual players. He's enjoyable to be around. As good of a coach as he is, he's a better person.
"Toronto might have a longer road ahead than (the Sharks) do (to become a Cup contender) but Ron will be up to the challenge. He's great working with young guys. I think the Leafs and the city of Toronto will love Ronnie."
WHAT'S IN STORE?
With Ron Wilson coming in as coach of the Maple Leafs, what can Toronto players -- at least those who will still be around come October -- expect from their new bench boss? Here is a inside glimpse from San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton, who played for Wilson for almost three full seasons.
1. CHALK TALK: "Ron is an excellent Xs and Os guy. He knows the game very well and is good at making adjustments. A very good tactician."
2. SCREEN SHOTS: "The Leafs can look forward to seeing their share of video. He loves breaking down video."
3. TEACHER, TEACHER: "We had one of the youngest teams in the league in San Jose the past three seasons and Ron worked well with the kids. He's a good teacher. He really improved the young guys on the team."
4. THE MASTER MOTIVATOR: "(Players) can expect the unexpected. He is a fun guy who likes to keep the players loose. They can expect a lot of movie references. Ron understands that each individual needs to be handled differently."
5. THE QUIPSTER COMETH: "I think the (Toronto) media is going to enjoy listening to him. He has great one-liners. He's going to fill the newspapers there. I don't think you guys (in the media) are going to be bored."