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Fans come to see Thornton, but don’t expect miracle

June 23, 1997

REVERE, Mass. (AP) _ Ever since he was selected first overall in the NHL draft, Joe Thornton has signed autographs, given a clinic for the Boston fans and met with the media time and again.

He has done everything asked of him, in fact, except the most important thing: Help turn the Bruins around.

``I’m still young,″ the 17-year-old forward said Sunday at the NHL’s Breakout ’97, a fan festival on the beach about 10 miles up the road from the FleetCenter. ``There’s no real big hurry yet.″

And the team’s fans seem willing to wait.

The Bruins finished with the NHL’s worst record last season, missing the playoffs for the first time in 30 years and earning the right to draft Thornton. While Boston fans relished in the team’s perennial postseason appearances, the mediocre finishes seemed to keep management from making the moves necessary to win it all.

Now, the Bruins and their fans seem resigned to the concept of rebuilding for the long haul.

``They needed a change,″ said Steve Madden of Medfield, who predicted it would be another year of two before they’re back in the playoffs. ``It’s just a start. They’ve still got a long way to go.″

Pete Palladino, a Bruins season ticket-holder from Dedham, said he doesn’t expect them to compete for the Stanley Cup for at least five years.

``The way the league is, they might sneak in (to the playoffs). But I don’t think they’re going much farther,″ he said. ``He is a young guy. They all have potential, that’s the thing. Whether they fulfill that potential, we’ll see.″

Boston also had the eighth pick in the first round, using it to take forward Sergei Samsonov of the IHL’s Detroit Vipers. At 18, he could be on a line with Thornton next year.

``We have to be patient,″ their new teammate, Ray Bourque, said Saturday at a draft day party for fans. ``(Thornton) may be very good right off the bat, but it may be three or four years for him to fully develop.

``I’ve been around so long and seen a lot of players come in with high expectations. We’re really excited about seeing him. I think you have to be excited.

``Last year was such a disappointment for everyone involved,″ said the five-time Norris Trophy winner, whose chances to win a championship are dwindling. ``There’s only one way to go.″

Not for Thornton, who will try to make the jump from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. Despite being anointed as the franchise’s savior, Thornton said he isn’t afraid to struggle early in his career, even if it means another year of seasoning in the minors.

That is probably an effort to show the proper humility in front of his new teammates and coaches, assuring them that he knows he will have to earn his spot on the roster.

General manager Harry Sinden has said Thornton will be expected to help out the team this season.

If not, Thornton knows that the receptions like the ones he got at the beach may come to an end.

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