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Lake Placid trip evokes memories in Bruins' Thomas

by Shawn P. Roarke

LAKE PLACID -- Maybe walls can't talk, but the cinderblock partitions that make up Locker Room No. 5 at the USA Rink at the Olympic Center here were telling Tim Thomas a pretty good story Tuesday afternoon.

Thomas, the goalie for the Boston Bruins, stood in the far corner, trying to wrap his head around the history that took place in the cramped Spartan room he now occupied.

Thirty-one years earlier, the room hosted Team USA during the 1980 Winter Olympics. Yes, the Team USA that authored the Miracle on Ice triumph, a story that has been immortalized in countless books and movies.

"We all know the story," Bruin defenseman Andrew Ference, a Canadian said. "It's neat. It's obviously a big part of American hockey history."

It's an even bigger part of Tim Thomas' history, a history that includes his own stint, as a backup, for Team USA at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

"I always wanted to be a goalie, but Jim Craig and those Olympics sealed the deal," Thomas said Tuesday, referencing the American goalie who is a central figure in the Miracle. "From age 5 until really probably 20, it was to play in the Olympics -- not the NHL. Not that I didn't want to play in the NHL, but the Olympics were the main goal."

That's why he could stand in the room, so cramped by today's standards, and picture Jim Craig in his tan leg pads and his white Team USA jersey, eyes ablaze with focus and determination. Why he could envision Mike Eruzione, the team's captain, rallying the team during the intermissions of the penultimate game against the mighty Russians. Why, if he tried, he could see Herb Brooks, the larger-than-life head coach, pacing the tight confines, exhorting a raggedy collection of college players -- amateurs in the truest sense -- to believe in their hearts and minds that they could beat a juggernaut Russian team on the world's biggest stage.

It was all right there for Thomas -- just 5 when he witnessed perhaps the greatest hockey upset of all time unfold.

He has read about the events that led to the Americans' last gold medal in Olympic hockey. He has watched the movies and the documentaries. He has heard the stories from hockey lifers.

"This was a huge moment for hockey in the United States -- and just the United States, the country," Thomas said. "Nineteen-eighty, we were coming out of the stagflation of the 70s, we were in a Cold War against Russia, the Russian team was supposed to be unbeatable, and a team of college kids was able to put it together and have a miracle tournament."
He understands that the Stanley Cup Playoff series he is in now, the one that brought him to Lake Placid for two off days, can't compare to that iconic moment. In fact, he doesn't want the series between his Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens -- a series Montreal leads two games to one after Boston's victory in Monday's Game 3 in Montreal -- to be compared to such a special moment.

"That really is on a whole different, higher level I think than this series between Boston and Montreal," Thomas said. "Now, if it was the Stanley Cup Finals or something, but this is the first round -- although very important, don't get me wrong. The Miracle on Ice was a totally different beast."

With that said, this Eastern Conference quarterfinal-round series is the biggest thing in Thomas' mind at the moment. He's ecstatic that his team was able to hold on for a victory Monday night and claw its way back into a series that looked bleak after an opening pair of losses in Boston.

"It made the whole bus ride down here better," Thomas said. "If we were down 3-0 right now, it would not be a fun atmosphere to be in. We're down 2-1 and we still have a lot of work ahead of us, but that was the first step. Now we can come here for a couple of days, step back and recharge ourselves and get ready to do it again, because it is not easy."

But the Bruins, to a man, believe that Lake Placid will help in the fight. No, they don't believe a miracle can rub off on them -- "This isn't the Olympics. It wouldn't be a miracle if we are able to win Thursday (in Game 4), Thomas said -- but rather hope this bucolic little mountain town in the Adirondacks can help them get refocused and recharged.

"I went back to Vancouver to see what the Olympics are all about and you see the difference in the two cities," Lucic said. "Vancouver is such a big city and you come here and they have the one main street and that's about it. But, you know, it's a pretty cool mountain town. You want to do everything you can to enjoy the experience."

Ference said he plans to take a lazy walk around the town, perhaps, cast a few glances at the still-frozen Mirror Lake and remember his own childhood spent dreaming of being in this very spot. Other players are ready for some major rest and relaxation Tuesday before a Wednesday practice here and then a trip back to Montreal for Thursday's crucial Game 4.

"Truly, the main focus is already switching to Thursday and playing in Montreal," Thomas said before walking out of the past that lives in Locker Room No. 5 and toward his own, still unwritten, hockey future.

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