SAN JOSE -- Joe Thornton made the transition quickly.
Fifteen hours after a day-long journey from Switzerland to his South Bay home, the captain was skating at Sharks Ice on Thursday, reacquainting himself with the smaller North American rink as well as his teammates after almost four months in Europe.
He also was answering questions about what special challenges the Sharks and every other NHL team will face once a lockout-shortened 48-game season gets under way Jan. 19.
"I think everybody knows how important it's going to be just getting off to a quick start," he said. "You definitely don't want to lose three or four in a row or you're behind the eight-ball."
The hard work begins Sunday. That's when camps will open if everything goes as expected and a majority of the more than 700 NHL players have ratified their new labor agreement when online voting ends Saturday morning.
Thursday, it was more of a reunion skate as Thornton and four others -- Marc-Edouard Vlasic, TJ Galiardi, Adam Burish and Andrew Desjardins -- shared the ice with teammates who either stayed in San Jose for most of the 113-day shutdown or arrived earlier in the week.
"You have a bond with these guys and to be away from them for so long and not be sure when you're going to see them again, it's tough," Thornton said. "It's a good feeling to be back."
Thornton was his usual genial self. And he hasn't changed his habit of taking the time to unlace and remove his skates before answering media questions.
"You waited about four months," he said smiling. "What's another five minutes?"
Thornton had been playing for Davos in the Swiss Elite League, just as he did in the previous lockout eight years ago when he met his future wife, Tabea. The family owns a home there, so this was an easy transition for the couple and their 2-year-old daughter, who can speak Swiss-German, as well as English.
"It was good for my wife," said Thornton, who noted they're expecting their second child in late June. "She doesn't see her family too much, so she got to see her family quite a bit and see quite a bit of her friends."
Thornton led Davos in scoring with 12 goals and 24 assists in 33 games -- including two against Sharks teammate Logan Couture, who signed with Geneva after consulting with the captain.
"It was definitely weird playing against each other," Thornton said, "but it was fun."
Thornton also competed against Sharks defenseman Jason Demers when Davos lost 7-1 to Team Canada in the final of the Spengler Cup, a game in which another Davos player fractured Demers' right wrist with a slash.
Unlike Demers, Thornton came home with no lingering ailments.
"I feel good. I feel healthy," he said. "I've played some games so hopefully I'll have an advantage over some guys."
Thornton did acknowledge that he competed more cautiously over there, fully aware of the big picture.
"You're careful. You're competing hard and you're in games, but you have your head up and you know what's around," he said. "You play hard, but you know what situation you're in over there for sure."
Thornton said he followed lockout developments more at the beginning than at the end.
"I got excited about two or three times, so then after that I was disappointed and didn't really follow it for the last month and a half," he said. "When I got the call we were going to go back, I was ecstatic."
Does Thornton see the extended time off helping or hurting his team?
"Until you play, you don't know, but hopefully it helps," he said. "We've played a lot of hockey in the past. Hopefully guys that had injuries, that were banged up, got healthy with these three or four months off."
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