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Howard inspired by Thomas' story, accomplishments

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- Jimmy Howard has never met Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas and outside of a teleconference call has never had a conversation with him.

Regardless, the 27-year old Red Wings starting goalie can tell you a lot about the 37-year old Thomas, simply because he's been a fan for quite a while.

"I've never met him, but I've got a lot of respect for him and what he's done in his career," said Howard, who will face Thomas' defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on Friday in the Thanksgiving Showcase (1 p.m., NBC) at TD Garden. "He just continues to amaze people. The path that he had was a long one and probably made it that much sweeter for him. He's taken control of everything and you can tell he's having fun with it, too. So, it's great to see that."

It's also an inspiring story -- not only for Howard, but for all goalies.

Despite being from Flint, Mich., Thomas wasn't recruited by Michigan or Michigan State and instead played collegiately for the University of Vermont. He was drafted in the ninth round (No. 217) by the then-Quebec Nordiques and proceeded to bounce around the globe playing hockey.


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He shuttled back and forth between the minor leagues and the team HIFK Helsinki in Finland before finally catching on with the Bruins in 2002. Thomas' first full season with Boston was in 2006, but he really had his first breakout year in 2009 -- posting a 2.10 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in 54 games.

Those numbers dipped in 2010, but last season Thomas posted eye-popping stats (2.00 GAA, .938 save pct.) on his way to winning the Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup. In the playoffs, Thomas was even better with a 1.98 GAA and .940 save percentage.

"The year that he had last year and what he did in the playoffs, winning the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup, and the stats that he threw up there were incredible," said Howard, who first must face the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena (7 p.m., TSN). "I don't think those will be touched anytime soon. Those are going to be tough numbers to try and beat."

The fact they're even out there as a target, however, is something all goalies should be thankful for -- knowing where Thomas came from in his career to post them.


"It is, because it gives you something to aim for," Howard said of Thomas' career story. "He's now at the top of the pedestal and you want to be as good as he is."

Howard also appreciates Thomas' style in net, which he said helped break a trend where a lot of goalies and goalie coaches were leaning heavily toward just the butterfly style. Thomas is more of a hybrid.

"It was starting to get to the point where all they wanted goalies to use was butterfly style,"
Howard said. "He butterflies, but he wills the puck out of the net, too, with his competitive nature and it's just so much fun to watch. That's why I get a kick out of watching him. It's just an absolute battle every single night. He's battling out there. He's just fun -- everything about him and his comments off the ice that he makes. He's a colorful personality."

He's also going to be at the other end of the ice on Friday for a nationally-televised game, which is a challenge that Howard welcomes.

"When you've got the best in the game down at the other end, you better bring your 'A' game," said Howard, who is off to a blazing-hot start of his own with a 1.85 GAA and .930 save percentage to go with a 10-5-1 record. "You know that on more nights than not he's going to have his."

As for playing the day after Thanksgiving on the big stage that NBC provides, Howard approves -- though he gives a thumbs-down to the idea of playing on Thanksgiving itself.

"It's great for our sport," he said of the Thanksgiving Showcase game. "I hope they continue to move forward with it. One of the things I always remembered growing up was watching football games on Thanksgiving and now we're throwing hockey into the mix on Friday. It makes for a great sports weekend."
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