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Thornton's role: leader of the pack

WILMINGTON -- When Joe Thornton was an 18-year-old rookie in 1997, he made his first long October road trip with the Bruins and saw cities such as Los Angeles as a wide-eyed innocent. Thornton, who didn't play the first three games of that season because of a broken forearm suffered during the preseason, said his teammates looked out for him.

Now, as the team begins a six-game swing beginning tonight in Buffalo, the 26-year-old captain said it's his turn to lend a hand to the new additions.

''For me, it was guys like Jason Allison and Anson Carter, those were the guys I hung out with because they were a little bit younger," said Thornton. ''They showed me where to go and where to eat and things you do and don't do. The older crew kind of hung out with [each other]. On this team, it seems like everybody jells, and that's the way it's been for a couple of years now. We've already started team luncheons together and all the young guys are coming. It's nice to get them involved and make them feel like they're part of the team."

In Thornton's first year, the Bruins started their first road trip (a West Coast swing) 1-2, but finished it with five straight victories. This year, the Bruins stay in the Eastern time zone with stops in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Florida, Ottawa, and Montreal. Thornton said the cliche about road trips being bonding experiences is true.

''To start off the year where everybody is together, I think it's good for us," he said. ''In past years, we've always seemed to have pretty good road trips, and come back and really jump-start our season. As a team, being around each other every day for 10 days, I think it's good for team chemistry. Especially the new guys, they really get to bond with the guys who have been here for a while. It's always nice to get out on the road."

Thornton said he still remembers being overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of Los Angeles and New York, which are a far cry from St. Thomas, Ontario, his hometown. He said he expects some of the younger Bruins to feel the same way when they touch down in any metropolis.

''You [land] in LA or New York, not the Buffalos, per se, it is going to be different for a lot of these young guys," he said. ''But I think one time about, they'll get used to it, and the older guys can definitely help out in that aspect."

As much as the Bruins might enjoy being in Tampa or Fort Lauderdale, Fla., coach Mike Sullivan said the bottom line is winning. ''It's kind of a double-edged sword," said Sullivan. ''You're going into some hostile environments and you're going into some buildings where it's not easy to win. Every night is a tough night. The positive side of it is everybody gets a chance to get out and get to know one another a little bit better. We get some time to spend together as a team. It's one of those things where it can work if you get the results; it can really help your team. Having said that, it's going to be a big challenge."

Because of the Olympic break, there will be no long February trip, normally an annual event. Instead, the Bruins will only travel outside the East in December, when they face Edmonton, Vancouver, and Colorado, coming home for one game before heading to Minnesota and Calgary. Sullivan said this trip is easy, at least in terms of wear and tear.

''The travel, from our standpoint, is better this year because we don't have to travel as far," he said. ''The length of the trip is still the same. But I believe it's going to help us come together as well."

The downside is there isn't much prep time. Beginning tonight, the Bruins will play three games in four nights, all against clubs that have retooled.

''There has been a lot of turnover in the league," said Sullivan. ''There are a lot of new faces, and our team is no different. We're trying to come together as a group and I look at this as a good opportunity to do that."

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