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Julien toys with Thornton in Belfast 09.30.10 at 4:33 pm ET
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BELFAST — There is no overstating just how big a hit Shawn Thornton has been since landing with the Bruins in Belfast on Thursday morning. Photographers and writers were eagerly awaiting his arrival as they stopped and asked him questions while he was still in the airport.

All of the hoopla, of course, is because Thornton’s mother was born in Belfast, hasn’t been there since she was six or seven by Thornton’s recollection, and will be in attendance – with 19 other family members — when the Bruins play the Belfast Giants/Elite League All Stars on Saturday. It will be a big moment for both Shawn and his family.

That’s where some of Claude Julien‘s humor came into play. Julien said in Thursday’s preference that while discussing how ecstatic Thornton was to head to Northern Ireland, coach told his forward he would be doing so in a different capacity than expected.

“I think there’s no doubt he was the happiest of the bunch [when he found out the Bruins were going to Belfast,” Julien said. “This will eb his claim to fame right now, being here in his mom’s hometown. He’s been excited. I’ve seen it in his face for a few days, so I told him he’d enjoy watching the game from the stands on Saturday.”

How did he take the news?

“He lost his smile there for a few seconds until he realized I was joking around.”

Thornton is currently switching in and out of the fourth line with Brian McGrattan.

Read More: European Trip,
The Bruins aren’t the only ones excited… 09.30.10 at 3:55 pm ET
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BELFAST — Phone calls out on whether the folks at Belfast will erect a statue of Shawn Thornton have yet to be returned (the Northern Ireland media has gone bonkers for the forward whose mother was born in Belfast), but in the meantime here’s a little something to show their excitement for the Bruins to take on the Giants.

Read More: European Trip, Shawn Thornton,
Bruins have sleeping in the aisles to thank for energetic practice 09.30.10 at 3:02 pm ET
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BELFAST — If you expected the Bruins to roll into Belfast falling over themselves with fatigue, as unlikely as it would seem given the last two days and jet lag, you were somehow wrong.

Just a few hours after arriving at their hotel, the team tore up the ice at the Odyssey Arena in a high-energy practice. One of the highlights of the skate, which was a truly entertaining hour and a half, was a drill in which a skater would take a penalty shot. Players would essentially bet sprints on whether they would score, lining up on one wall to signify their faith in the scorer and the other to support the goaltender. Players laughed throughout the drill — hearing it from teammates as they would shift from wall to wall based on the shooter — but by the end of it had skated plenty.

Though one might think a practice in which players were both sprinting tirelessly and in high spirits would be impossible after a five-hour flight that came with a five-hour time-difference, that’s simply what came of Thursday’s skate.

“I think guys are trying to compensate for the tired legs and stuff and trying to get the most out of it,” defenseman Andrew Ference said. “Coach has had this planned out for a while, what the day was going to look like, just to try to get over the jet lag as quick as possible. We knew the practice was going to be a good one to get the legs going, and I think guys took it seriously. We want to get on the right foot as quick as possible here.”

Asked if he was able to get any shuteye on the plane, Ference said he employed a tactic used in his WHL days.

“I think all the guys that played in the Western League (slept) on the floor. We’re used to sleeping on the floor of the bus.”

Seriously?

“Oh yeah. The Western League guys are pros at that. I grabbed a towel that was as thin as paper and got down there for a bit.”

To sleep on the floor during a flight with a plane full of teammates may be a sign of faith that pranksters would refrain from tapping their feet or employing other tactics to disrupt one’s slumber. Ference wasn’t worried about such shenanigans interfering with his rest, but for a different reason.

“Z’s part of the Western League boys,” he explained, “so if anybody messes around [they to deal with Zdeno Chara].”

As for how Ference did at choosing in the penalty-shot fiasco, he ended up skating quite a bit after the shooters got off to a hot start.

“I’m a good guy, so I bet on the gaol-scorers every single time,” Ference said in defense of himself. “Well, maybe the goalies won’t think I’m a god guy, but I believed in our goal-scorers every time. It was probably about half (right) and half (wrong) I think.”

Read More: Andrew Ference, European Trip,
Cultural differences: Part 1 09.30.10 at 9:46 am ET
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BELFAST — I was champing at the bit to make up a “cultural differences” series when I saw this poster outside the playhouse in Belfast. You know that really popular play “Movin’ Out”? You know why it’s set to Billy Joel music? Because Billy Joel sings everything. Everybody knows all his songs. He can play “Zanzibar” live and everyone in the house will know every word, even though the song was never a single. He definitely has enough hits to last an entire play.

Well, our first cultural difference encountered has a lot to do with that. This is a poster for the play “Sunshine on Leith.”

The Proclaimers. Even a bad music aficionado couldn’t name five songs by them. Must be a short play. Off to practice now, check back here for some interesting stuff.

Read More: Cultural differences, European Trip,
We’ve landed in Belfast 09.30.10 at 8:33 am ET
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BELFAST — …And I could totally bust out a “5,000 Things We’ve Learned” right now but Bruins’ practice and drowsiness from barely sleeping in the last however many hours would get in the way. Instead here are some pictures from the first night/morning of the trip, many of which were taken on a camera phone, so all apologies.

Read More: European Trip,
Shawn Thornton and Patrice Bergeron: Irish brothers? 09.30.10 at 7:35 am ET
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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.”

Read More: European Trip, Patrice Bergeron, Shawn Thornton,
Capitals 4, Bruins 1 09.29.10 at 10:35 pm ET
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And finally, it’s off to Europe.

The 24 hours leading up to Wednesday night’s red-eye, 5 1/2-hour flight to Belfast, couldn’t have been more hectic for the Bruins.

They played Tuesday night in Washington and lost to the Capitals, 3-2, in a tense game that featured third-period rough-housing between Gregory Campbell and Alexander Ovechkin.

They hopped on a plane and had to come to Boston for the team’s annual media day Wednesday morning.

They then went home to finish up packing for a 12-day trip to Europe and came back to play the same Capitals team at TD Garden.

So it was hardly a surprise that in their final North American preseason tuneup before getting on a plane for Belfast, Ireland and their season opener on Oct. 9 in Prague, the Bruins dropped a 4-1 decision to the Capitals.

Tim Thomas saw his first action of the preseason and played all 60 minutes, allowing four goals on 24 shots. Niklas Backstrom scored the first two goals before the Capitals built their lead to 4-0 early in the third period.

Mark Recchi scored his first of the preseason midway through the third on a power play, with assists from Patrice Bergeron and Michael Ryder. The Bruins left immediately after the game for Logan Airport, where they caught a charter flight to Belfast. They will play an elite area team in Ireland on Oct. 3 before opening with the Phoenix Coyotes in a pair of games Oct. 9 and 10.

The Bruins finished their NHL portion of preseason with a 1-3-1 mark, while the Capitals, who did not travel superstar Alexander Ovechkin to Boston, remained perfect at 4-0-0 in preseason.

Read More: Alexander Ovechkin, Boston Bruins, NHL, Tim Thomas
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