In the first edition of our new weekly series where we analyze what happened to former NHL players, we will look back at the former Boston Bruin goaltender Tim Thomas. His road to the NHL, similar to climbing Mount Everest, being picked up in a helicopter and skydiving out of it, was lengthy and burdensome. However, once he made it, he rose to the top and disappeared.
Analyzing Tim Thomas NHL Career
Born in Flint, Michigan, Thomas went to high school in Davison, Michigan. Growing up in a tough economy provided Thomas with an incredible work ethic, as could be demonstrated by him sprawling across the net to make an unbelievable save. It also provided challenges for the Thomas family. His parents, Kathy and Tim Senior, were forced to sell her wedding ring to pay for Tim’s hockey tournaments. He played a couple of years on travel teams with another former Boston Bruin, Brian Rolston. Due to the high cost of travelling teams, Tim played high school hockey and won a championship with his school. Following the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup championship, Thomas returned the cup to his former high school.
Thomas’ Career Before Getting to the NHL
University of Vermont 1993-1997
After graduating high school, Thomas went on to play at the University of Vermont. While playing for the Catamounts, he received many accolades. In 2007, he was inducted into the University of Vermont Athletic Hall of Fame, alongside former Hart trophy winner Martin St.Louis. In his rookie season, the goaltender was named to the Eastern College Athletic Conference All-Rookie team. He was an All-American and ECAC goaltender of the year back to back. The netminder also led Vermont to their first NCAA Frozen Four appearance.
During the 1995-96 season, Thomas posted a .924 Save Percentage, the best across the nation. He set single-season and career records for saves made. The Quebec Nordiques drafted the American player in the 9th round, 217th overall of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. Thomas never played for the Nordiques and it was an eventful eight years before he made his NHL debut.
Thomas NHL Career Takes a While to Get Started
In 1997-98 Thomas’ professional career kicked off on North American soil, albeit short-lived. Playing just one game for the Houston Aeros of the IHL and six games for the Birmingham Bulls of the ECHL. He then took his talents across the pond, playing for HIFK of the Finnish Elite league.
Showcasing his elite abilities overseas, Thomas posted an insane SV% of .947 and a Goals Against Average of 1.62. The American player put up 13 wins in 18 regular season starts, followed by a sparkling 9-0 record in the playoffs en route to winning the league Championship. The 1998-99 season was a near mirror image of the prior season. Starting in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs, he would play only 15 games before jettisoning back to Finland to play HIFK again. Thomas played the entire 1999-2000 season with the Detroit Vipers of the IHL. After a poor season statistically, he spent the next two seasons back in Europe.
His Time with the Providence Bruins
During the 2002-03 season, Thomas would suit up for 35 games for Providence Bruins. The real highlight of this season was that he finally got to start in the National Hockey League. Thomas made his NHL debut on October 19th, 2002, starting against the Edmonton Oilers. Although he won his first game 4-3, the goaltender only played a total of 4 games for Boston that season.
With the Providence Bruins for 2003-04, the Bruins netminder put up an impressive stat line with a .941 SP% and a 1.84 GAA. These were his best AHL numbers to date, serving notice that he was finally ready for the show. Unfortunately for Thomas, due to the NHL lockout, he would have to wait for one more season before getting his NHL shot. An astounding year it would be. Starting in 54 games, for Jokerit Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League, he posted a remarkable 15 Shut Outs, 1.58 GAA, and a .946 SV%.
Thomas’ NHL Career Finally Starts
Boston Bruins 2005-2012
Getting his first significant time with Boston coming out of the lockout, Thomas’ hard work paid off. Due to injuries, the starting role fell right into his lap, and Thomas never faltered. He didn’t put up spectacular numbers in that first season. However, he did enough to win the Bruins’ Seventh player award. Thomas would remain the B’s starter for the next three seasons before briefly squandering it to Tuukka Rask in 2009-2010. On April 2, 2009, Thomas got paid for all the years he’d persisted through various minor leagues. He signed a four-year $20 Million contract extension with Boston. The long-time journeymen also won his first 0f two Vezina trophies that season.
The 2010-11 Stanley Cup Champion
The 2010-2011 season was one for the ages. Thomas, who opted for hip surgery in the off-season, returned and was an absolute brick wall. He appeared in 57 games with a record of 36-11-9, nine shutouts, and a 2.00 GAA. His 938 SV%, the best recorded in NHL history, topped Dominik Hasek’s previous mark.
Thomas’ 2011 playoff run was magical, leading Boston to the Stanley Cup Finals. He set the records for most saves in a single post-season (798) and a Stanley Cup Final (238) and surrendered only eight goals in the seven-game series, an NHL record. His 967. SV% in the Stanley Cup Finals is also an NHL Record. Thomas took home the Conn Smythe and the Vezina to go with the Stanley Cup that season.
Tim Thomas’s best saves of the 2011 playoffs https://t.co/RWpMBlRzzx via @YouTube What a Gem! Thanks for the Cup Timmy!#BostonBruin #TimThomas #StanleyCup #Highlights watch for my Tim Thomas article coming soon.
— Justin Caron (@JustinCaron18) August 15, 2022
The Time When Thomas Unceremoniously Left the Bruins
After the Stanley Cup championship season, things got strange for Tim Thomas. There was the infamous refusal to attend the White House with the Bruins. He told the National Post that “Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion, both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an individual.”
On June 3, 2012, Thomas announced he would be sitting out for the season, citing focusing on the three F’s – friends, family and faith – as his reason. The Bruins organization suspended Thomas and later traded his rights to the New York Islanders. He then played his final seasons with the Panthers and Stars.
What Has Happened Since He Retired
Thomas stayed entirely out of any publicity up until 2019. In 2019, he was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame. Upon his induction, the goaltender gave his first public statement in years. “I have other interests […]. I live in a totally different world than the hockey world that I lived in before […], a long way away from Boston, and it’s not that fun for me to travel anymore. It isn’t anything to do with the Boston Bruins or the Boston fans, especially. My goodness, they loved the crap out of me when I was there to the point where it was hard to handle.”
In an interview for ESPN, Thomas also spoke out about the brain damage he had suffered as a result of post-traumatic concussion syndrome “My brain wasn’t functioning well enough to be able to keep up with the game, so I sat out in the woods for a few years. I didn’t watch much hockey. There’s not much TV out there.”