By Joe Chrzanowski | Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19
Happy 46th Birthday To Boston Bruins Legend, Tim Thomas!
Thomas was born on April 15th, 1974, in Flint, MI, and was drafted by the now-defunct Quebec Nordiques in the ninth round (217 overall) of the National Hockey League Entry Draft in June of 1994. After graduating from Davison High School, he attended the University of Vermont from 1993-97.
The Catamounts went to the NCAA Tournament in both the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons. In addition to Thomas, their roster boasted future NHL players, Martin St Louis, and Eric Perrin. In 1996, they made it to the Frozen Four for the first time in school history before being eliminated by Colorado College. In 1997 they returned to the tournament but were eliminated by Denver, 6-3, in the Regional Quarterfinals. Thomas still holds the school’s single-season saves record with 1,079 stops during the 1996-97 season, and the four-year record with 3,950 stops.
Thomas would attend his first professional training camp in the Fall of 1997, with the Colorado Avalanche. Despite all the success and great statistics at Vermont, it seems that coaches and scouts did not view his unconventional, “helter-skelter” style of play as sustainable at the NHL level. He disagreed, and after a few minor league games in the IHL and ECHL, he found his way to the Finnish Liiga, where he played 18 regular-season games, with a 1.62 GAA and a .947 Save%. He continued his stellar performances during the playoffs with a 1.52 GAA and .926 Save% in nine postseason games.
The Michigan native would spend the next four seasons putting up very solid numbers in a variety of leagues across the world, including the AHL, IHL, SHL (Sweden), and the Liiga (Finland). In 2002, he signed with the Providence Bruins, and played in 35 games with the Baby B’s, putting up decent numbers (2.87, .906). He got into four games in Boston that year as well. The following season he would put up even better numbers in 43 games for Providence as their starter (1.84, .941). Unfortunately, his opportunity for an NHL job would have to wait yet again as the 2004-05 was lost to a lockout.
Undeterred, he would go back to Finland that year and put up ridiculous numbers playing for Jokerit. His 54 games, 1.58 GAA, and .946 Save% were all-league bests. Even more importantly, he did this while several NHL goalies were also playing in Finland. His statistics were better than established netminders like Tomas Vokoun, Dwayne Roloson, and fellow B’s goalie, Andrew Raycroft. It must have caught someone’s eye in the Bruins front office because the following year (2005-06), at the ripe old age of 31, Thomas finally got his chance to be an NHL starter. Over the next two seasons, Thomas would play in 104 games for Boston, and put up decent numbers for a team that was not very good, and failed to qualify for the playoffs both those years.
However, the real turning point in Thomas’ Bruins career would come in 2007-08, after the Bruins fired Dave Lewis, and replaced him with the more defensive-minded Claude Julien. In his first season under “Clode”, Thomas would play in 57 regular-season games (top 20) and had a .921 Save% (Top 10). The following season (2008-09), he would better those numbers in both the regular season and playoffs and take home the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender. The unheralded goalie who could not get an NHL opportunity until after the age of 30 had reached the top of his profession.
That offseason, GM Mike O’Connell would make one of his shrewdest signings, extending Thomas and inking him to a four-year deal that would pay him a total of $20 million. It appeared as if things could not get any better for Thomas, but there would still be some bumps in the road for the reigning Vezina winner. He would put up good regular-season numbers, but he was not his usual self. It turned out that he had been playing through a torn labrum that would require surgery and keep Thomas out of the postseason. His team would suffer a crushing seven-game series loss at the hands of the Flyers, after leading three games to none at one point.
If 2009-10 had been a time of trials and tribulation for Thomas, the 2010-11 season would prove to be a revelation and one of redemption. First, he would fight off a challenge from young backup Tuukka Rask to retain the starting position. Then, he would put up stellar numbers during the regular season (2.00, .938). After a shaky first few games versus Montreal, Thomas would find his game and lead the Bruins back to the Cup Finals, culminating in a Game Seven win in Vancouver. Thomas would not only help bring the Cup back to Boston after a 39-year absence, but would also take home both his second Vezina, and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.
Unfortunately, after his dream season, Tim Thomas would play only one more year for the Bruins. The end of his tenure in Boston would be marked by some acrimony due to his political beliefs and disagreements with management, and he would be traded to the Florida Panthers in 2013-14. Personally, I choose to forget about this period of time and concentrate on the story of a guy who went from being unwanted to the oldest Stanley Cup MVP ever at the age of 37.
Former Bruins goalie Tim Thomas makes a rare public appearance ahead of US Hockey Hall of Fame.
“I couldn’t keep up with watching a game for a few years after I stopped playing… My brain wasn’t functioning well enough to watch a game. So I sat in the woods for a few years.” pic.twitter.com/o43ZGCpWYY
— Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) December 12, 2019
Recently, it appears that Thomas and the Bruins have made efforts to mend fences and Thomas made some comments publicly at his induction into the Hockey USA Hall of Fame after years of silence. It turns out that the game he loved also took its toll on him in the form of multiple concussions that had a profound effect after he retired. Thomas appears to be recovering and I hope that we see him honored in Boston before very long. It’s only befitting of a man that is arguably the best goalie in Bruins history.