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The Incredible Story of Tim Thomas: A Dauntless Battle to the NHL

Tim Thomas bounced around hockey’s minor leagues before making his mark as one of the Boston Bruins’ top goalies of all-time.

The inspiring story of NHL goalie Tim Thomas
Credit-Boston Globe/Joker Mag Illustration

The NHL draft is an exciting time for hockey players and fans alike, but the 1994 NHL Draft did not go to plan for Tim Thomas. The 5’11” goaltender waited until the ninth round before he heard his name called and was eventually selected 217th overall by the Quebec Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche). But despite this early setback, Thomas went on to become a Stanley Cup winner and recipient of the coveted Conn Smythe Trophy.

Thomas played college hockey for the University of Vermont from 1993-97, where he posted an 81-43-15 record. He was a talented goaltender with a 2.70 GAA and a .934 save percentage. Thomas played on the same team as the NHL All-Star Martin St. Louis.

There was not much interest in Thomas during the 1994 draft until the Quebec Nordiques selected him as the 217th overall pick. The Nordiques had no immediate plans for Thomas, and he thought his dream of an NHL career was over before it had even started.

The man from Flint, Michigan, bounced around the minor leagues for a while, turning out for the Birmingham Bulls and Houston Aeros before signing for the Finnish team HIFK. Thomas helped HIFK win the Finnish championship in his first season, but it was a far cry from playing for an NHL team high up in the latest Stanley Cup betting markets.

From the Minor Leagues to TD Garden

Thomas returned to North America during the 1999-2000 season, where he played for the Detroit Vipers in the IHL. He spent the next season in the Swedish Elitserien before joining the Boston Bruins in 2001, although he returned to Finland for the 2001-02 campaign.

Boston’s AHL affiliate, Providence Bruins, gave Thomas a shot at the relative big time. He made his NHL debut at 28 years old during the 2002-03 season but made just four appearances, enjoying a 3-1 record and a .907 save percentage.

Just as matters started looking up for Thomas, the one-season NHL lockout happened, resulting in Thomas returning to Finland for the fourth time. He shone brightly, played 54 games, posted a league-high .946 save percentage, and recorded 15 shutouts during the regular season.

The 2005-06 season is when everything started falling into place for Thomas. He fully expected to play for the Providence Bruins, but injuries to Boston’s two goaltenders, Andrew Raycroft and Hannu Toivonen, earned Thomas his first NHL start in three years. He became the starting goaltender and played so impressively that Boston’s fans awarded him with the 7th player Award in recognition of exceeding expectations.

Signing a $5 Million-A-Year Contract

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas walks through the tunnel at TD Garden
Credit-Getty Images

Thomas began the 2006 season as a backup to Toivonen, but Toivonen struggled for form, gifting Thomas another shot at being the Bruins’ number one. Boston signed goaltender Manny Fernandez from the Minnesota Wild in 2007, and everyone expected Thomas to be Fernandez’s backup. That was the case until Fernandez succumbed to injury.

Thomas seized the opportunity and was ultimately selected for his first NHL All-Star Game.

Fast forward to 2009: Thomas’ career was now in full swing. He agreed to a four-year contract extension that saw him make an average of $5 million per year.

From battling in lower league hockey to making millions in the NHL.

Thomas won the 2009 Vezina Trophy thanks to a league-leading 2.10 GAA and .933 save percentage. He also played in his third straight All-Star Game in 2011 and became the first goaltender in NHL history to win three consecutive All-Star Games.

RELATED: The 10 Best Comebacks in NHL History

The Defining Moment in Thomas’ Career

The crowning moment of Thomas’ career, the one that proved to the world that having dogged determination ultimately pays off, came in the 2010-11 season when the unthinkable happened, and Thomas lifted the coveted Stanley Cup.

The Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 and Tim Thomas became the first goaltender to post a shutout in Game 7 on the road. His remarkable record of a .967 save percentage and only eight goals against during the Stanley Cup Finals culminated in receiving the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP. He was 37 years and 62 days old at the time, making him the trophy’s oldest winner.

The incredible Thomas took a year-long break during the 2012-13 season but returned in 2013-14 with the Florida Panthers. He turned out 40 times for the Panthers before heading to the Dallas Stars, where he played eight games before officially retiring.

Where is Tim Thomas Now?

Since retiring from hockey, Thomas has flown under the radar. As of 2019, he lives with his family in a resort town in Sandpoint, Idaho – a town with a population of 8,386.

While Thomas chooses to stay out of the spotlight, hockey fans will always his spectacular saves and heroic moments.

So much credit is given to being picked early in the NHL Draft. But Tim Thomas is living proof that anyone can make it in hockey’s top league if they are prepared to be patient and put in the work both on and off the ice.

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