With the city of Boston waiting for the Bruins to join the Patriots and Red Sox in the championship circle, a lot of weight has been put on the broad shoulders of 26-year-old Joe Thornton.
Coming into his prime, the former No. 1 overall pick says he's ready to deliver. Considering he already has taken on his hulking brothers, Iron Mike Keenan and every hacker in the NHL, it's not surprising he's ready for the challenge.
Joe went toe-to-toe with ESPN's David Amber and talked about everything from Tom Brady to the upcoming Olympics to the art of dropping the gloves.
Question from David Amber: Joe, you are the youngest and smallest of three brothers, how much abuse did you take as a kid?
Answer from Thornton: Tons. Growing up, I wanted to play with the bigger kids, so having two brothers, you had to stick your nose in there and try your best; you get the worst of everything, though. My middle brother, John [6 foot 6, more than 260 pounds], was so much bigger than me, he would just hit me and check me playing road hockey; it was rough.
Q: What did you do during the lockout?
A: I played in Switzerland, in a little city called Davos. I skied four days a week and played hockey, so life was pretty good. I had never skied before until I went there, so that was pretty cool.
Q: In an interview on Nov. 10, 2003, you said: "This might be my last year. It's not worth the pain. My back is killing me and it's just not worth the ordeal." Describe what you were going through at that time.
A: There was so much clutching and grabbing down low, and that's where I do all my work. I was getting abused; my back was so sore; and you can only take so much. I was at the point where it wasn't worth it. Playing every game hurt wasn't fun. But I really love playing hockey and I wouldn't want to do anything else.
(Editor's note: Thornton left the Bruins' road trip and has returned home for back treatment.)
Q: Which coach has motivated you the most in your hockey career?
A: I think Iron Mike [Keenan] started me out by pushing me so much. He's probably the guy who did wonders for my career. Mentally, he made me tougher. He would say stuff in the paper to make you angry, call you out once in a while. I think if you want to win, you feed off that stuff, and he was really pushing my buttons. He is a hard-ass, that's for sure.
Q: Was there ever a time you wanted to say to Keenan, "Let's go, right now, I've had enough of this?"
A: Yeah, there were a couple of times. We had it out a few times, but the feelings were mutual [in] that I wanted the best for the team and he wanted the best out of me, and it really worked cause we had a good partnership going.
Q: Where do the Bruins fit into the sports landscape in Boston?
A: Hockey is definitely a huge sport in Boston. Obviously, with the Patriots and Red Sox doing so well during the last couple of years, it really motivates us Bruins to get back to the 1970s, when the team was so big. I think in the whole city of Boston, we are definitely up there; if we win a championship, it will be huge for the city.
Q: How well do you know some of the other pro athletes in Boston?
A: I have done a couple of commercials with the Celtics' Walter McCarty [now with the Clippers], so I've checked out a couple of their games. The Patriots' Teddy Johnson [now retired] is a big hockey fan, so I have met Teddy a bunch of times.
Q: Tom Brady is considered the most eligible bachelor in Boston. Why not Joe Thornton?
A: I think he has the résumé with three championships. [Laughs] If I get four or five, I might catch up to him. Tom's No. 1 and everyone one else falls to No. 2.
Q: You just played against Sidney Crosby, how did he look to you?
A: He looked great. He's going to be a superstar in this league. He's just so fast. He knows the game so well. He doesn't look like an 18-year-old, that's for sure.
Q: You were one of the final players cut from the Canadian Olympic team in 2002. How much are you thinking about being a part of the upcoming Games in Italy this February?
A: I've been with Team Canada for a lot of World Cups and World Championships, and to be part of an Olympic team would be a huge thrill for me. Whenever you put on the Canadian jersey, it's an honor and it would be a huge honor to represent us at the Olympics.
Q: You've had 19 NHL fights in your career. What's your strategy when you decide to drop 'em?
A: [Laughs] Just get in and throw 'em and hope you don't get hit. It's intense. With skates on, there are some big boys out there, you hope nobody gets hurt, but you have to protect yourself.
Q: If you had a chance to play with any one player in the league who you have not yet played with, whom would you like to be teammates with?
A: Brett Hull or Jeremy Roenick. That would be fun. Those two guys have a lot of character. Brett scores so many goals and they both have great shots, so I think they would be pretty good to play with.
David Amber is an anchor for ESPN and a contributor to ESPN.com.