Commentary

Tim Thomas bucks convention

Bruins goalie's unorthodox style and path to NHL result in Stanley Cup

Updated: June 16, 2011, 4:36 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The first thing Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas wanted to do after winning the Stanley Cup with a 4-0 shutout of the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 on Wednesday was look for his family.

He was soaked. He was emotional. He was tired and surrounded by reporters on the ice at Rogers Arena when he politely asked to step away.

"I'm going to find my family," he said. "I'm sorry."

With that, Thomas grabbed his daughter and gave her a big hug. A scrum quickly surrounded him again. After all, he just won the Cup, was honored with the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, and likely will win his second Vezina Trophy in the coming days.

[+] EnlargeTim Thomas
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesTim Thomas is collecting a lot of hardware, including the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

The 37-year-old goaltender's journey has been anything but conventional, just like his style. He didn't become a full-time goalie in the NHL until he was 32. He was doubted time and again. Every single season he's had to fight for his job. He had offseason hip surgery to repair a torn labrum, and when he arrived at training camp, this moment was exactly what he set as a goal.

"It's literally a dream come true, just like it is for everybody on our team," Thomas said. "At 37, this may have been my only shot at it. I'm so happy I was able to take advantage of it. This hasn't set in for me, to be honest."

Thomas, a native of Flint, Mich., went from the University of Vermont to the ECHL to the IHL to Finland to Sweden to the AHL and finally to the NHL. He was questioned the entire time. That's what drove him. That's why he's a Stanley Cup champion.

"Too big a story to answer right now," Thomas said. "It's incredible right now. I think I'm actually going to feel better tomorrow or the next day. I'm pretty tired. That was a lot of work."

Plan and simple: The Bruins would not have made it to this point without Thomas.

"Tim Thomas in these playoffs just totally dominated," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "That's a sign of a great goaltender. He was on top of his game from start to finish, and especially in this final round. He was outstanding every game. I know everybody expected him to have an average game at some point -- it never came. He was in the zone, focused, never let anything rattle him and never questioned his style of play. What's happened to him right now is so deserving and I'm so proud of him, and obviously the rest of the team."

Thomas could be considered the greatest goalie in Bruins history, on par with Gerry Cheevers. Of course, Cheevers had longevity, but the accomplishments Thomas has earned in his short period of time in the NHL is simply amazing.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been the most popular pro athlete in Boston for the past decade, but Thomas just cemented himself into the sports lore in this town forever.

"I don't think I've ever seen something like that from the first exhibition game he played until tonight," Bruins veteran and future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi said. "I don't think I've seen goaltending like that -- ever. I don't know if we'll ever see something that special again."

Thomas stopped 37 shots to become the fourth goalie to record a Game 7 shutout in the Stanley Cup finals. He is the second goalie to record two Game 7 shutouts in a single postseason, joining Patrick Roy in 2002.

"It's great," he said of the shutout. "It's something I'm going to look back on forever and be proud of. I'll have to keep the DVD to show my grandkids when they don't believe I could have ever played a professional sport."

Thomas set record for the most saves in a single postseason (798) and a Cup finals series (238). He also becomes the second American-born player to win the Conn Smythe, joining Brian Leetch in 1994.

After Thomas accepted the trophy, the first teammate to give him a huge hug was assistant captain Patrice Bergeron. These two have been through a lot together and are the longest tenured Bruins on the current roster.

"Timmy has been huge all year, all during the playoffs," Bergeron said. "He's going to win the Vezina. He won the Conn Smythe and now he's got that Cup. With everything he's been through, and the character that he's shown -- it's about the whole team but that's why we won."

During the regular season and playoffs, Thomas kept the Bruins in almost every game. He was spectacular in the postseason, especially in the Cup finals. While all the players and their families were celebrating on the ice, Bruins legend and current team president Cam Neely spoke about Thomas' performance.

"You can never imagine a goalie playing that well in seven games," Neely said. "Prior to this series he played extremely well, but this series alone he just picked up his game and it's hard to really see how a guy can play the way he did. But he did it."

Once the puck dropped for the Cup finals, Thomas seemed like the king of cool, even when the Canucks were trying to taunt him on and off the ice. He was calm. He was focused.

"That's what it looked like," Thomas said. "I was nervous at times, there's no doubt about it, especially as the series went on. My job as a goalie is to hide that and give the team confidence in front of me."

During the Cup finals, the Bruins wanted to make sure they won for injured teammate Nathan Horton, who suffered a season-ending concussion in Game 3. He served as an inspiration, making the trip here for Game 7, and was in full uniform on the ice postgame to celebrate with his teammates.

As much as he was the focus due to his injury, Horton made it clear that Thomas was a major reason why the Bruins won.

"You can't say anything else other than he was fantastic. He was awesome," Horton said. "All year, all playoffs he stopped everything he could see, and even shots he can't see. What an amazing goalie. He's a shooter tutor with no holes. It's tough to score when there's no holes in you."

After this historic Cup victory by the Bruins, Thomas credited his teammates. Then the Conn Smythe winner, soon-to-be Vezina winner and current Stanley Cup winner went back to find his family.

What he may not realize is that his family just increased by the millions with Bostonians, New Englanders and Bruins fan worldwide.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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