-- It might not be the singular June night Boston fans had in mind, but the 2009 NHL Awards provided an intensely victorious evening for Bruins coach Claude Julien
, goaltender Tim Thomas
and defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara
. All three won major trophies Thursday night at the Pearl Theater at the Palms Casino and Hotel.
Julien, one of three first-time finalists along with San Jose’s Todd McLellan
and St. Louis’ Andy Murray for the Jack Adams
Award for outstanding coach, led the Bruins from an eighth-place finish in the Eastern Conference a year ago to leading the conference this season. Julien is the third Bruins coach to win the Adams (first established in 1974), following Don Cherry
in 1976 and Pat Burns in 1998.
As it turned out, Burns announced Julien as the award winner. Along with Boston, Julien and Burns have also both coached in Montreal and New Jersey.
"Wow, what an honor," Julien said when he reached the podium, "mostly because I have also received from you. … All I can hope is catch up to you Pat, a couple more Jack Adams
awards and, of course, a Stanley Cup."
Thomas was happy for his coach.
"Claude found ways to make me perform to the best of my abilities," said Thomas, who delivered one of the night’s memorable and emotional speeches upon being named Vezina Trophy winner directly before his coach was honored. "Even as a player you don’t like getting pushed at the time, but then realize it all worked out. He knew what he was doing."
Thomas was another winner among first-time finalists that included Calder Memorial Trophy winner Steve Mason
and Minnesota Wild
goalie Niklas Backstrom
. Thomas finished with a NHL-best 2.10 goals-against average (Mason was second and Backstrom third) and also led the League with a .933 save percentage. He notched a career-high 36 wins.
Thomas and teammate Manny Fernandez
won the Jennings Trophy for goaltenders on the club with the fewest goals against. Thomas’ return trip took him by surprise, he admitted.
"I never allowed myself to think I might win [the Vezina]," said Thomas. "All those names on the trophy … it seemed like such a faraway dream."
Close to tears, Thomas dug deep for one of the night’s best jokes: "I have been more worried about getting my name on a roster than winning the Vezina Trophy."
Before the night started, Thomas said he found time to look at the names on the Vezina Trophy. He talked to NHL.com about a career that four years ago brought him to Finland.
"There was a time when I thought I might finish the rest of my career there," Thomas said. "In fact, I think Boston was debating whether to sign me or [Backstrom]. I’m glad it worked out.’
Thomas, went 36-11-7, gaining 83 percent of the available points in his games for his team.
For his part, Chara unseated perennial Norris winner Nicklas Lidstrom
, the Detroit captain who won six of the last seven awards for top defenseman.
He thanked his Bruins teammates for being "a big family" and singled out his wife, Tatiana.
"After those bad games," he said directly to his wife, "when I come home, you are the one who has listen to me talk about how I could play the puck differently."
Chara also had a message for all youth hockey players: "I would like to follow up on what Pavel Datsyuk
said earlier [about how young players should never quit trying]. I wasn’t supposed to make it past Juniors … to all those kids [who've] been cut, it’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it and put in the hard work."
Chara couldn't say enough kind words about Lidstrom as the consumate role model for all active NHL defensemen.
"We can be here all night talking about Nick," Chara said in a post-awards meeting with the media. "He is still the best defenseman in hockey and he has proved it the last 10 years. He's just so consistently good, he plays so smart and is always in position."
The Boston captain admitted to being in a bit of shock about winning the Norris given Lidstrom's grip on the award this decade.
"I'm still recovering," Chara said. "It will probably take me the next couple of days to believe it."