After being overshadowed by the other professional teams in Boston, the Bruins have been getting attentionwith their physical play and first-place start. Tim Thomas has become one of the NHLís top goalies, following an All-Star season with the best goals-against average and save percentage in the league.
Thomas is an amazing story of perseverance. A ninth-round draft pick out of the University of Vermont, he began his pro career in the ECHL in 1997-98 and played in the AHL, IHL, Finland, and Sweden before ever getting a chance to start an NHL game.
TC: You had to go far and wide to get experience. Because of your journey and what youíve had to do to establish yourself, do you think you appreciate where you are more than younger guys who jump right into the league?
Thomas: Yeah. When youíre young, at first youíre really appreciative, but I think in general if you get everything when youíre young I do think the danger is there to be satisfied and not to push for greater heights. Iím not the only one; there are other guys on the team, like [Shawn] Thornton, who have played a lot of games in the minors and worked their way up. Even [fellow goalie] Manny Fernandez spent his time in the minors. I do think it does give you a better appreciation.
TC: Playing in the minors is one thing, but you played for teams and even leagues that no longer exist.
Thomas: [laughs] Yeah, but I wanted to play, you know? It never felt like a job, whether it was the East Coast [League] or going to Finland or Sweden, it wasnít a case of, ďOh, Iíve got to do this, this is the only thing I can do.Ē I was excited for each individual opportunity. If it worked out that the best job I could get was in the ECHL, if that was the highest level I could play, then when I went over there, I would say, ďWhen I get over there, Iím going to show them what I can do.Ē Thatís how I approached each step.
TC: There was never a point, looking out of a window of a bus or on a plane to Europe, that you wondered, ďWhat the heck am I doing?Ē You never lost that drive?
Thomas: Never. Never. My first couple of years playing pro were in Finland, and their longest bus ride was like three hours. I will say my bus rides when I was playing in Hamilton [Ontario] were longer, and sometimes I wished for the shorter ones in Finland, but I never wished that the bus rides would be over altogether.
TC: You are 34 years old now. For position players, theyíd be considered past their prime. You and Manny are both 34 years old. Why do goalies age so gracefully?
Thomas: [laughs] I donít know. Good question. I think because of the nature of this position you can, with experience, make it easier. Not that itís ever easy, because itís hard for everyone. Thatís part of it. Another part of it is that weíre getting hit with pucks, and sometimes that doesnít feel the greatest, but weíre not getting pounded night in and night out by 240-pound bodies, which is what you have to deal with at the NHL level nowadays. Maybe thatís why age isnít as much of a factor for goalies. But then youíve got other guys that are out at their positions that are aging rather well, too, like [46-year-old Chris] Chelios and [39-year-old Joe] Sakic. Playing against Sakic this year and watching him on TV, it doesnít look like heís lost a step to me. He looks just as fast.
TC: Weíve seen a lot of games go into the shootout. I guess thatís good for the game, because itís exciting and fans seem to like them. But as a goalie, would you rather see a game finish in a tie? Seems like itís all about you at that point.
Thomas: Really, in the big picture, itís not all about me. Itís all about the fans, and the fans love the shootout. Whether you can do the shootout without making it part of the point process, I donít know. It is the way it is, and the system is actually working to keep the standings tight. Thatís beneficial to the fan base overall, not just in Boston but everywhere. I donít think thatís something the leagueís going to be visiting anytime soon. As a goalie, when you lose in the shootout even if you played a great game, itís tough to swallow because you end up feeling like you failed, you know? The danger is there to get too low, because the shootout comes down to a toss-up in a certain way. But, like I said, itís not really about me, itís about the fans.
TC: The win over Dallas got a lot of fans excited. It was a physical game, and you even skated out toward Stars goalie Marty Turco when it seemed like he was heading toward a fight in your end. Have you ever had a goalie fight before?
Thomas: Never. Iíve never been in a fight with another goalie. Iíve been in a few fights with forwards [laughs] in juniors and in high school but never with the other goalie. Never.
TC: Did you think you were going to have to go after Turco at that point?
Thomas: I didnít know what he was thinking. The way he skated out, yeah. Heís been struggling this year, heís frustrated, and his team was down, I thought maybe he just wanted to do this to get out of the game. To try to do something to turn his year around, and I was thinking heís not going to turn his year around on me.
TC: You were the winning goalie in the NHL All-Star Game last year, and youíve got the best goals-against average and save percentage in the league right now. Yet youíre not on the All-Star ballot. Whatís a guy got to do to earn respect in this league?
Thomas: I donít know. Be a high draft pick, I guess [laughs]. Iím not on the ballot, but Iím still going to play the best I can so that they canít overlook me.
TC: There are plenty of fan websites urging a write-in campaign for you, so the word is out.
Thomas: I appreciate that, but itís not something I can think about on an everyday basis. Iíve just got to think about my job.
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.