|A year makes all the difference for Tim Thomas||01.24.09 at 7:34 pm ET|
MONTREAL, Quebec — Tim Thomas has always been a work in progress when it comes to keeping his competitive emotions in check.
University of Vermont coaches still talk about the Roy Hobbs-style swing that the former Catamounts netminder took at a puck in a fit of pique after surrendering a goal in practice. He didn’t snap the extra-wide goalie stick with the force of his blow, or hit an unsuspecting coach with the errant puck after taking the mighty swipe. Nope.
Instead the young goalie — capable of explosive tantrums that bordered on epic — took a hack at a puck that had the audacity to slide through his pads, lifting the biscuit straight into the the scoreboard at the Gutterson Fieldhouse. Light bulbs blew apart and sparks flew everywhere as both the hockey version of “The Natural” and the damaged scoreboard raged.
With that ultimate Thomas story as the fitting backdrop, the underdog B’s goaltender had to fashion a new trick last season when his mother Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thomas’ parents had moved to Boston in recent years to be near their son, and Thomas’ mom received treatment at some of the finest medical institutions in the world.
On the ice Thomas was enjoying his finest season in the NHL and earned his first All-Star berth while finishing fourth in the NHL in save percentage. Unfortunately his mother was still undergoing treatment for breast cancer last January, and couldn’t attend the ceremonies in Atlanta to watch her son earn the victory in net for his Eastern Conference team.
All that has changed this season however: Thomas’ mother is in remission from breast cancer and she is well enough to watch her son again suit up for the Eastern Conference squad. This time, she’s at the All-Star Game in person along with his dad, Tim Sr., as well as Thomas’ wife and children. The group made the trek to Montreal from Boston to take in Timmy’s weekend. Add to that the bonus of also soaking in the atmosphere of an NHL All-Star Game amid a setting that hockey executives couldn’t dream up: the hockey hotbed of the Habs during their 100th Anniversary season.
“They’re both nice…it’s a great honor,” said Thomas of the back-to-back All-Star bids. “Both of them mean a lot. Last year was my first one and this year I was left off the ballot and still got on the team. So both of them are special. I really enjoyed it last year, but hopefully this year I’ll be a little more relaxed. I know the routine a little better this year and my parents were able to come this year.
“My mom was undergoing chemo last year at this time last year for breast cancer,” added Thomas. ”So that makes it really special in its own right.”
It’s the cruelest of ironies that Thomas’ greatest team and individual success — until this season — coincided with his mother battling cancer, but the casual hockey observer might never have known the inner turmoil that Thomas suffered through. Whether Kathy was having a good day or a bad day in her treatment, her son was trying to maintain the same mindset going to the rink every day.
It was something like this: “Win and play as well as you can to make your mom proud and happy.”
it worked and perhaps his mom was even a little bit of an inspiration for Thomas, who – true to his can’t-keep-him-down nature – remained optimistic in the face of mortality’s specter once his mom began her battle with perhaps the most hated and feared word in the English language: cancer. When Tim was growing up, Kathy normally steered clear of her young goaltender after games – because she knew that Tim Sr. would already be bursting at the seams with pointers.
But last season Kathy Thomas became the focal point for all of Tim’s considerable efforts between the pipes.
“[Hockey] didn’t make it any easier, but I’m an optimist so I always held out hope that things were going to be okay,” said Thomas. “Being in Massachusetts with some of the best health care in the world helps. My parents moved to Boston a couple of years ago, so they were here.
“It sounds dire to say, but the survival rate for breast cancer is getting better and better,” added Thomas. “I was playing and she was going through that. I always thought that she was going to be okay, but I also always wanted to play well because I knew that would make her feel good. It gave her something to focus on.”
With cancer thankfully in the rear view mirror for the Thomas family, Tim is doing plenty at All-Star weekend in Montreal to again make his mom feel good.