Even though the trophies they took home on Thursday pale in significance to the big silver jug that every hockey person craves, there must have been a little quiet satisfaction for the four Boston Bruins who took home trophies from the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas.
Just by listening to their acceptance speeches, you could tell that despite any protestations to the contrary, their trip to Nevada was as lucrative as any high roller’s honeymoon and that even though the Stanley Cup was awarded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the four Bruins had reached an important personal pinnacle.
All four men -- Zdeno Chara
, Manny Fernandez, Claude Julien and Tim Thomas
-- thanked their teammates and their families. All four men have cleared some professional hurdles to attain their success.
And all four men have worked their tails off and have earned the respect of their hockey community.
“It seems like such a far away dream,” said a wistful Thomas from the award podium. “When you look at the names on the Vezina Trophy – they’re legends.
“I’ve been more worried about getting my name on a roster.”
That emotional (tearful?) admission elicited a very heartfelt round of applause that was palpable even to those watching on TV.
“Not being able to make it as a player in the NHL, but being able to make it as a coach is certainly gratifying,” said Julien before thanking his friends and family in French.
Again, there was another round of hearty applause.
“I wasn’t supposed to make it past juniors,” said an unusually emotive Chara. “I was cut by every team.
“I just want to send a message to all those kids who’ve been cut.
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it,” he said.
After the ceremony, the media scrums revealed another layer of emotion and relief.
“It’s tough to be nominated,” said Chara. “I never stopped believing, but I’m certainly so happy that it happened.
“It’s a great feeling.”
Clearly Julien understood that feeling.
“You don’t realize what it means to you until you hear your name,” said the B’s head coach. “Getting it from [former B’s coach and friend] Pat [Burns] was pretty special.
“And there’s a lot of coaches that are deserving of this award this year – that’s why it’s even more special.”
As Thomas stood with his two trophies backstage (even on video) he looked much younger than his 35 years.
“It’s great – now that I am feeling a little more composed,” he said with a laugh.
“I didn’t allow myself to think that I might win,” continued Thomas. “The names on the list – Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur – I was looking at them just today.
“The goalies that won them before, are so good it’s hard to let yourself put yourself on their level in your head.”
Then, Thomas seemed to talk for the other Bruins as his focus shifted back toward an even bigger prize.
“Throughout the course of my career I’ve had so many times when I got my hopes up, and then had them crashing down around me,” said the goalie. “So I guess that maybe it teaches you to not get your hopes too high – especially about individual awards,” he said.
As nice as they are, individual awards are not what players (and Boston Bruins) strive for.
“It’s the team awards are the ones that matter the most and obviously winning the Stanley Cup is the most important,” said Thomas. “So maybe that’s a little part of the reason why I felt a little unprepared when I won.”
And now, the B’s award winners can again concentrate on adding that most important team award to their mantle in 2009-10 -- and nobody will be unprepared to celebrate if these men are able to add that particular accomplishment to their resumes.