His working-class parents sold their wedding rings to help fund his youth-hockey career. He sold his car to part pay for his first year of college and then worked hard to secure a three-year scholarship. He pursued goaltending opportunities in Canada, the United States and Europe.
Thomas was 29 when he played his first NHL game and 31 before the Bruins made him part of their goaltending platoon in 2005-06. Fending off a series of challenges to secure his starter role, Thomas has been the NHL's best goalie all year, after an All-Star season a year ago.
Most goalies would have given up on the dream if they hadn't secured an NHL job by 30 but Thomas has the self-belief and core mental strength to persevere.
Thomas has played in a lot of hockey organizations, youth-hockey, college and professional, and he has observed many different kinds of organizational structures. Team-oriented in every way, Thomas thinks about how an organization should be structured and considers everyone's role in the organization.
He's also a class act, giving his time generously to the media and fans. He takes a second to think before answering and gives insightful, concise answers.
Thomas watched teammates Zdeno Chara and Phil Kessel be interviewed for the NHL's Army Strong campaign and when asked to participate, quietly said "thank you for asking me."
His respect for those who defend us was evident. What was also evident in conversation was his admiration for the Army's organizational structure. And why not? For a long, long time, the U.S. Army, along with corporations like General Electric and Procter & Gamble, has been among the leaders in studying organizational structure and using time and efficiency studies to enhance performance.
"I don't want to defame the military by comparing it to hockey," Thomas said. "We can't compare the job we're asked to do to what they must do. A lot of my good friends from Michigan served in the military and my grandfather, still alive and kicking, is a World War II veteran. I get most of my respect for the military from what they've told me.
"One of my best friends is in the National Guard, did a tour in Afghanistan and is going back in November," Thomas continued. "I had faith he'd be OK because he's always had the values the Army wants. I've got another friend, a good hunter, if you put him on the trail of anything, animal or enemy, he'll get it. Different guys, different thinking, but both dedicated and effective.
"In our dressing room, we have 25 guys from 25 different places, different interests, different quirks and we have to learn to respect that and allow them to be themselves, understanding that's what allowed them to get to this level.
"Loyalty to a hockey team means standing beside each other, in good times and bad," Thomas said. "You help your teammates through good times and through bad times. You have to support them.
"Everybody has to come, every night, to do their part. Everyone has a different role. Everybody needs to accomplish those roles every night or you won't have success. Fortunately. this is in hockey, not life-or-death situations. That's what I think a sense of duty means, everyone knowing they are needed every night."
"One of my best friends is in the National Guard, did a tour in Afghanistan and is going back in November. I had faith he'd be OK because he's always had the values the Army wants. I've got another friend, a good hunter, if you put him on the trail of anything, animal or enemy, he'll get it. Different guys, different thinking, but both dedicated and effective."
-- Tim Thomas
"To have success, you have to have a courageous team on a nightly basis," Thomas said. "You put your body on the line every night. Look at the players blocking shots. They know they have a good chance of getting hurt, and hurting bad. It takes courage to do that when you have learned from experience that it will hurt. It takes courage for those forwards who go to the net, knowing they're going to be slashed and hit and maybe hit by pucks.
"Players have to sacrifice to the team good. Everybody wants to be on the scoresheet but some guys have to change roles, not worry about their own points, and do what's best for the team.
"In the end, it's integrity that ties everything together," Thomas said. "You honor the sacrifices your parents made and you honor your teammates' efforts by giving your best effort. You honor those who have gone before and those you compete with and against."
Look at the straightforward, honest look in Thomas's eyes in the picture accompanying this article. You'll see that same direct, fearless look all across the military. You'll see it in a lot of people who know the goal and the path to it.