RALEIGH, N.C. -- One has to wonder what was going through the mind of Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli as he watched star goalie Tim Thomas plunge to the ice in his attempt to lap an ice rink in the fastest time possible during the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition.
"Ah, he sees that five times in practice, one way or another," Thomas said. "I don't think he was worried one bit. That's why I was able to get up so fast … because I have plenty of practice at falling."
It was all in fun, of course, but no team needs an injury in the wake of a second-half surge to close out the season entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Still, there was the 36-year-old Thomas, attempting to go stride-for-stride against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward in the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater competition at RBC Center on Saturday night.
The third pair of skaters to take the ice in the competition also happened to be the first goalies to compete in the fastest skater event. Ward crossed in 18.895 seconds, while Thomas, who was the oldest competitor at this year's NHL SuperSkills competition, crossed in an event-low 19 seconds.
"That's OK," Thomas said. "The hometown boy won, but I think everyone knows who the fastest skater was."
Donning full pads and goalie masks, Ward and Thomas pushed to the bitter end. Spurred by the hometown faithful in Carolina, Ward was able to survive his lap. Meanwhile, Thomas lost an edge rounding behind the cage before flopping to the ice. After regaining his balance, Thomas, grinning ear-to-ear at this point, completed his twirl around the ice.
"I think I was approached about a week ago to try something like this, but we didn't find out until (Saturday)," Thomas said. "I knew the corners would be an issue, but I didn't realize they would have the tires that make the corners round. I was just going to go around the net and do a tight turnaround and go on the straightaway. So I wasn't really prepared and never practiced that radius for a turn."
"It's not very often I do a hard full lap," Ward said. "I know we have some skates at the end of the practice, but I usually just coast around and do my thing. But I was a little bit concerned, too, because (Hurricanes' backup goalie) Justin Peters is definitely faster than me."
Carolina rookie Jeff Skinner thought the race was tremendous.
"Cam doesn't skate many laps … the only time he ever does that is in warmups or something, so it's a lot of pressure to throw at him for just a lap in his goalie equipment," Skinner said. "I thought it was funny, though. Before the thing, (Ward) said he was a little nervous he was going to fall, and I was hoping he would fall but that he didn't hurt himself so that I could give him the gears about it. But he did a good job. He handled himself well and got the win, I guess."
Thomas admitted Ward told him he was concerned about falling prior to the race.
"It's harder for the goalies and I've never seen it done before, but it was good," Thomas said. "Ward came right before the event and said to me, 'I just don't want to fall down' and I was the one who fell."
"I was trying to look up how Tim Thomas could skate," Ward said. "But knowing Tim and how competitive he is, you knew he was going to be going as hard as he could out there. But I didn't really put too much thought into it. I was just going to have a good time and try not to fall into the corner."
Bruins rookie Tyler Seguin knew it wasn't going to be easy for either goalie.
"(Thomas) was flying out there and he's a very competitive person," Seguin said. "When he fell, everyone chuckled, but he got up and almost finished with the win because he caught up. He finished with a smile on his face, so that's all that matters."
Both goalies didn't think twice about not wearing their goalie equipment.
"You just wear what you normally would," Thomas said. "Zdeno Chara wasn't using a different stick for the hardest shooting contest."
"I think it's a little bit more difficult when you have some pillows on your legs and skating around," Ward said. "You didn't see me do any crossovers behind the net or anything like that or else I would have fell. I mean, I couldn't tell you how much (the pads) weighed."
I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.
— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic