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A College Q&A with Tim Thomas

by Staff Writer / Boston Bruins
Recently, when the subject of the University of Vermont being in the Frozen Four for the first time since he and his Catamounts teammates broke into the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament back in spring 1996 was bandied about, Tim Thomas talked at length about his first step into New England hockey history.

Thomas at UVM
It must be gratifying to see your alma mater, Vermont, doing so well?
Yeah, it is. It’s great to see the program making the steps it’s making. When I was there with Marty St. Louis and Eric Perrin, the program was coming along nicely, and then they had a little setback after we left, and then they switched over to Hockey East. There were a lot of people who criticized that; they didn’t know if they’d be able to compete, recruiting-wise, with Hockey East, and Kevin Sneddon’s done a great job. That team up there is proving everybody wrong.

What was the most important thing you learned at UVM?
The biggest thing for me was just maturing and learning to live on my own. Some of these 19-year-old kids come into the NHL, and they’ve already been living away from home for three years, and they’re adjusted to it. They’ve got a much better head on their shoulders than I had when I was 19. It was my first time away from home – no rules, and I had to learn to grow up, so that’s probably the best thing that college – not just hockey, but university itself – helped me to do.

Was college, and UVM, a good way to start your hockey career?
Yeah, definitely. I wouldn’t be where I’m at in my hockey career…if I hadn’t made that choice. Who knows, maybe things would have worked out, but [for instance] if I would have went to UMass-Lowell, I would have been backing up to [the Edmonton Oilers Dwayne] Roloson my whole freshman year, and after that year of basically inactivity, who knows if I would have been able to pick it back up.

What were your college choices?
UMass-Lowell. Michigan Tech, with Jamie Ram – it was the same situation as Roloson, they were both juniors that were All-Americans returning as seniors. So, really, those were my only two options until late August when University of Vermont called, and one of my first questions was, “If I come there, will I have a chance to play right away?” They said, “Well, we’re not going to promise you, but we’ll promise you that you’ll have a chance. We’re not going to promise you’ll play,” and I played every game.

Why did you choose Vermont so late in the game?
Christian Soucy, their goalie, didn’t sign with the Chicago Blackhawks until, like, August 21, so he was a late departure for them, kind of took them off-guard, and they had two juniors who were goalies, but they’d just backed up; they’d never actually played a college game before that year.

So that’s how you ended up a Catamount?
The University of Vermont obviously just started scrambling and calling people, and they ended up talking to Bill Beaney from Middlebury, who had been my coach in an Olympic festival earlier that summer, and that’s how the ties came. So the University of Vermont basically recruited me sight unseen. I’d never seen Vermont. I don’t think I’d been east of Niagara Falls at this point in my life yet. I only had two days between the time they called and the time I left for school. I tell my friends I’m going to Vermont, and they ask what state that’s in, you know?

Did you get a scholarship?
Actually, UMass-Lowell and Michigan Tech were scholarships, and UVM was only a scholarship the last three years – financial aid the first year, which covered most of it, but then my aunt helped me out with the rest. I sold my car, too; that helped.

UVM's got BU in their semifinal on Thursday. You played the Terriers twice, right?
Yeah, yup. I still remember one save I made on Mike Grier the second time we played them. I was looking to redeem myself after that first, probably the worst beginning in my college career.

The previous year you had lost to BU in a one sided decision for the Terriers. Was that a learning experience?
Yeah, especially at that age; it’s your first time going through anything like that. [UVM’s] Coach Gilligan, left me in for the whole game. I didn’t expect that at all, so I learned how to deal with that, learned how to stay with the game, even if the game really isn’t going your way; kind of how to be a professional and battle back through that stuff. There’s that, and then obviously learning to put that behind you the next time you play the same team, and then have a strong effort.

How well do you remember the Frozen Four?
It was the best experience of my college career. [Losing to Colorado College] was disappointing, but I was not upset, because I had given it everything I had and so had the rest of my team.

Any words to the current squad?
Well, “good luck.” Just keep playing the way you are and don’t over think it and keep the train rolling.
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