BELFAST — The European trip to kick off the Bruins’ 2010-11 season can be viewed as being about a lot of things. From seeing new places to seeing unfamiliar teams in preseason and getting a good deal of team bonding in, there are plenty of story lines that run congruent with the team’s 10-day trip. Just days away from the Bruins’ exhibition game with the Belfast Giants  in Northern Ireland, one player comes to mind for embracing his family ties and soaking up the tradition. That player, of course, is Shawn Thornton , but should there be more?
Thornton’s mother, born in Belfast, flew in on Wednesday to stay with her cousin while her son is in town. Given all the excitement throughout his relatives, the veteran forward is expecting 20 family members to both show him around and attend Saturday’s game. Reallocation of the players’ tickets certainly came into play as a result.
“There’s a lot of guys who did not need tickets for this game. Thank God,” Thornton said with a smile. “I’ve got the most.”
Yet while Thornton is eager to see family members, some of whom he’s never met, there’s another Irish relative he’s excited for, and one Bruins fans might be a little more familiar with: Quebec’s own Patrice Bergeron .
“My grandfather was born in Northern Ireland. He came over a long time ago with his parents. It’s been a long time, but it’s going to be pretty special to go there,” Bergeron said of the surprising bloodlines.
Born and raised in Quebec and a star of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a teenager, there isn’t much about Bergeron’s upbringing or time in the game that screams “Northern Ireland.” Though Bergeron isn’t sure if he actually still has any relatives in the area, Thornton can assure him that he has at least one.
“I mean, we’re Irish brothers,” Thornton said. “I call him Patrick Cleary, not Patrice Bergeron, so we’re probably related back from back there at some point.”
And thus perhaps the most unlikeliest of connections, even by sarcasm’s standards, is made. Both players are Canadian-born, of course, and neither have been to Belfast before. Though they’ll be there for just three days before departing for Prague on Sunday, the anticipation isn’t lost on either of them.
“It will be good to see some family,” Thornton said. “I’ve met some of them — they used to come over and visit my grandmother over time — so it will be good to see them again and hopefully get some local knowledge of the city.”
Bergeron, whose father’s last name actually is Cleary, is definitely excited for the trip, though it’s unlikely he’ll play the role as resident Belfast expert like Thornton hopes he will. Asked if he and Bergeron would embrace the culture heavily through the wearing of scally caps to truly reflect their Irish heritage, Thornton didn’t hide mask his pride a bit.
“I’ve got tons of them. We’re going to look for some while we’re over there, but I’ll be bringing a few just in case,” he said.”
Especially in the case of Prague, many players have some places in mind when it comes to sight-seeing. Bergeron spoke of how beautiful he found the city when he last played there in 2004 representing Canada in the World Championships.
For the Belfast leg of the trip, Thornton has put forth an effort in looking up interesting spots to take teammates during the team’s three days in Northern Ireland. That doesn’t mean he still won’t rely heavily on the natives in his family to direct him.
“I’m sure I don’t retain as much information as I should when I [research places], so I’ll probably just play it by ear when I get over there,” Thornton said. “I’ve got aunts and uncles that will be taking me around. I’m sure their knowledge of it is better than what I can find on Wikipedia.”