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2019 NHL All-Star Game: Captain Auston Matthews discusses Bay Area roots

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2019 NHL All-Star Game: Captain Auston Matthews discusses Bay Area roots

SAN JOSE – It’s become something of a social media joke in Bay Area sports circles to refer to Maple Leafs captain Auston Matthews as a “San Ramon native”, mainly because the No. 1 overall pick from the 2016 NHL Draft moved to Arizona with his family when he was just an infant. (At least it’s a joke for this writer, who called the San Francisco suburb home for 20 years.) 

So it came as a bit of a surprise at NHL All-Star media day in San Jose when Matthews was quick to acknowledge his Bay Area roots.

“I was actually born pretty close to here, so it’s nice to come back,” the Toronto forward told the media on Thursday. 

Again, the 21-year-old only spent the first couple of months of his life in the Bay Area suburb. So suffice to say, he doesn’t remember much of it.

“I didn’t spend much time (here) when I was born here, but it’s definitely an exciting weekend to spend with some of the best players in the league and my family,” said Matthews, who has only visited the Bay Area twice since coming into the NHL since the Maple Leafs visit the Sharks once a season.

While he may not be as familiar with his birthplace, Matthews is well-acquainted with one of its former residence – ex-Sharks forward Patrick Marleau, who became Matthews’ teammate at the start of the 2017-18 season.

“We love Patty,” Matthews said without hesitation. “He’s obviously a special player. He’s a future Hall of Famer.” 

Marleau is nearly two decades older than the Leafs’ captain, and Matthews admits to looking up to him. Not just on the ice where Marleau has helped set Matthews up for a number of goals, but off the ice as well.

“He’s really helped me – myself and (Mitch) Marner are really close with him,” Matthews admitted. “Just his presence in the locker room every day – he’s such a calm presence. Never gets too high, never gets too low. I think that’s something good for us young guys to look at.”

Matthews is participating in his third consecutive All-Star Game, having made the squad in all three seasons he’s been in the league. 2019’s game marks the first time he will serve as captain for the Atlantic Division team, which includes Maple Leafs teammate John Tavares. (Yes, the same John Tavares who almost became a member of the Sharks last summer and was booed by Sharks fans during the media day festivities.)

While Matthews may not have many memories of his time in the Bay Area he’s more than happy to be here for the weekend – especially considering the forecast that is expected to continue through All-Star weekend.

“It’s nice to have some warm weather,” Matthews said with a chuckle. “The last couple of weeks have been pretty cold in Toronto.”

Hurricanes poke fun at Petr Mrazek after fighting Sharks' Joe Thornton

Hurricanes poke fun at Petr Mrazek after fighting Sharks' Joe Thornton

Thursday night’s matchup between the Sharks and the Carolina Hurricanes featured quite a ruckus, which began when Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek slashed Sharks veteran Joe Thornton after a play, prompting Thornton to put Mrazek on his back with a vicious forearm shiver.

During Friday morning’s practice, the Hurricanes decided to have some fun with their goalie by drawing an outline of where their net-minder gracefully hit the ice.

Mrazek remained on his back for several minutes after the blow but remained in the game.

[RELATED: What we learned in Sharks' shootout loss vs. Hurricanes]

The Sharks and Thornton may have won the fight, but the Hurricanes won the game 3-2 in a wild shootout.

Sharks say Petr Mrazek 'flopped', got what he deserved from Joe Thornton

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Sharks say Petr Mrazek 'flopped', got what he deserved from Joe Thornton

There was no shortage of electricity in Thursday night's rumble between the Sharks and Hurricanes, which San Jose got a point out of after falling 3-2 in the shootout

But the game really went on the verge of exploding when Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek went after Joe Thornton -- which unleashed some next-level fury that Sharks fans on social media like to refer to as "Angry Joe."

"Jumbo plays hard, and the goalie went after him," Logan Couture said after Thursday's loss. "So, I don't know if the goalie expected to get pushed like he did, but if you're going to go at someone you're probably going to get pushed."

Thornton went to give the puck a nudge as he skated by Carolina's net, realizing a bit late that Mrazek already had frozen it. But it was enough to irk the Canes' netminder, who then attempted to violently slash Thornton and subsequently stood up out of the crease as if to square off with the future Hall of Famer. 

Thornton responded with a half-push, half-punch to Mrazek's face, sending the goalie toppling over backward to the ice. Mrazek remained there as a scrum ensued behind Carolina's net. 

[RELATED: Watch Jumbo send 'Canes goalie to ice with forearm shiver]

"I think it definitely gets your group emotionally engaged in the game when you have a goalie swinging a stick at a guy like, but, as you saw, Joe can take care of himself," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer chuckled. 

Even after Thornton was ushered over to the penalty box to serve two minor penalties, Mrazek was slow to get up off of the ice. The long delay in play left some wondering if Mrazek had a concussion, but he stayed in the game. 

This, of course, raised a couple of mid-game questions. Should Mrazek have come out of the game and gone straight into the league's concussion protocol? Was it actually the fall and not Thornton's force that caused him to labor on the ice for so long? Or, was Mrazek waiting things out so Thornton would receive more discipline?

Sharks goalie Aaron Dell offered up his two cents after the game. "He either got hit really hard and should have gone into concussion protocol or he flopped a bit, but I guess that's the ref's call," Dell said with a shrug.

Mrazek didn't offer up much to the media after the game, calling it a "cheap shot" by Thornton before saying he has suffered hits "worse than those, so it's not bad." So, perhaps we'll never know the real story.

While there is a lot of attention on his tiff with Mrazek, Thornton also deserves credit for playing an incredible game. He led the third line along with Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc to one of its most impactful games so far this season, and set up Sorensen for San Jose's first goal on the evening. With the Sharks' road trip continuing with a back-to-back this weekend against the Floridian teams, getting that kind of bottom-six contribution is vital.

"He's playing well," Couture said of Thornton. "We need [the third line]. Can't win with only the top six scoring. Some nights you need the bottom six to score, and I think that line's looked really good."