"I wasn't recruited at all out of high school. After my first year of juniors, I hadn't been recruited by anybody."
-- Tim Thomas
It began in a public high school in his working-class hometown of Davison, just outside blue-collar Flint in the heart of the auto industry. Then it was on to the University of Vermont for four years before two years in Finland and, finally, to Beantown in 2001.
Far from a world traveler until after high school, Thomas's priorities and goals were firmly in place well before high school graduation.
"I had never even been to Vermont -- or even east of Buffalo," said Thomas about the years before his decision to become a Catamount with the likes of Marty St. Louis and Eric Perrin. "College hockey was definitely always on the radar screen. I wanted to go and become the first person in my family to graduate. To be completely honest, I'm sure I was hoping to someday play in the NHL, but my ultimate goal was to get the scholarship and play college hockey."
For Thomas, that scholarship and playing road was a combination of timing and luck, two factors that have fortuitously served Thomas well the past 20 years.
"I wasn't recruited at all out of high school," he said. "After my first year of juniors, I hadn't been recruited by anybody. I went to an Olympic festival; had a very good one, and that's when I started to get recruited by UMass Lowell and Michigan Tech. But they both had returning seniors that were All-Americans. In August I picked Michigan Tech in my home state, but I hadn't signed any paperwork.
"Then Vermont lost their goalie who signed early with the Blackhawks. My coach at the Olympic festival was coach at Middlebury (College in Vermont). He told UVM about me and the first question I asked (head coach) Mike Gilligan was, 'If I come, will I get a chance to play right away?' They said, 'You'll have a chance to play every game.'
"From where I was in Michigan, I think I was the first high school hockey player to play in the NHL. Hardly anybody ever even made it to college hockey. I really never knew about the CCHA or WCHA mystique. I didn't even know about the ECAC. Me and my dad slept on [the decision to go to Vermont], and for whatever reason, we were 100 percent to the conclusion that I should go east."
Thomas' four-year college career from 1993-97 on the shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington ended with a degree in English.
"I love to read and write and wanted to major in history," said Thomas about academia, "but I had a lot of English credits."
Thomas has been reading opposing shooters with marked success at every level of his career.
Sandwiched between Thomas' college years at Vermont and now on Causeway Street included international play in Finland from 1997-99, where his Helsinki team won the Finnish championship in 1998. Thomas had a 9-0 record that playoff season.
Entering last weekend, his 7-2-3 slate helped to keep the Bruins atop the Northeast Division with a League-leading 1.78 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. He has been Boston's go-to goaltender the past three seasons, but still fondly remembers his college days.
"I get back in the summer, and stay in touch with the program. I thought they'd struggle coming to Hockey East, but they've done a great job."
Vermont left the ECACHL to become Hockey East's 10th team in 2004.
"And, you know," said Thomas drenched in a post-practice sweat, "I'll head back to school; maybe get the Masters in history."