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Showdown game is Thanksgiving treat for goalies

by Corey Masisak
Thanksgiving has always been a time for families and friends to come together,and for Michigan-born goaltender Tim Thomas,that usually means a trip to Detroit.

This holiday season,Thomas will spend Thanksgiving in Boston -- and the next day his Bruins will face the Detroit Red Wings in the 2011 Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown on NBC. Thomas is quite all right with the location.

"For me to play against Detroit is always a big deal for me because I'm from Michigan," Thomas said during a teleconference Tuesday. "So it's something like -- I don't really look too far ahead on the schedule ever,hardly ever.  I just try to keep it small,keep it focused,but I always know when the Red Wings game is because my family makes me aware of it,basically.

"And I'm happy to be playing in Boston this time because it was a lot cheaper than playing in Detroit."


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Kidding aside,the Bruins have been playing a Black Friday matinee every year since 1990,so it was fitting for TD Garden to be the site of the first Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown. It will be the earliest national television broadcast of hockey on network TV in the United States in more than 20 years.

As the NHL and NBC have done with the Winter Classic,the day after Thanksgiving could prove to be a signature day for hockey on the sports calendar.

"I think it's great," Detroit goaltender and Ogdensburg,N.Y.,native Jimmy Howard said. "Growing up,Thanksgiving,not only was it always about getting together with family and enjoying time with family members and grandparents and aunts and uncles and everything like that,it was also about getting around the TV and watching football. So for us to be joining the festivities the day after Thanksgiving I think is -- I think it's great for the sport,and I always like playing the NBC games because I always feel like it's our Monday Night Football game.  I have a lot of fun in that aspect."

Added Thomas: "I think it's a good thing to try to make an annual tradition out of the Thanksgiving time period there,and as a hockey fan,I would have enjoyed having an afternoon game the day after Thanksgiving as a kid,something to look forward to. It would have made the Thanksgiving vacation even more special."

The NFL has always been a staple on Thanksgiving,and this is annually a big weekend for college football as well,with several of the sport’s biggest rivalry games -- though most of those games are on Saturday.

But for youth hockey players,Thanksgiving weekend is often about more than meeting up with family and enjoying a holiday feast: It's a prime weekend for early-season tournaments at all levels of amateur hockey.

"I enjoyed it because growing up we always played in a Thanksgiving tournament in Oswego,N.Y.,which is just north of Syracuse,and that's where all my family is from,like my parents grew up,and aunts and uncles and cousins,they all live in Oswego," Howard said. "So we would go down for Thanksgiving and we'd have a tournament Friday-Saturday-Sunday,so it was easy travel for us. We'd already be there,and we were still able to have the normal Thanksgiving atmosphere at both grandparents' house and then got to play some hockey on top of that,so that's what I remember growing up."

Because the Black Friday matinee is already something of a Boston tradition,the Bruins players are well-versed in how to prepare for a game after one of the biggest eating days of the year. The Red Wings have a game at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday night,so they will likely be able to spend Thanksgiving morning with their families before the flight to Boston.

Thomas is a veteran of these Black Friday matinees,and he didn’t seem to think the Red Wings,or the Bruins,had much to worry about.

"I've already heard talk about it this year from some of the guys on the team,about you can't eat turkey. I think that's an old wives' tale," Thomas said. "I think any of the tryptophan or anything that's in turkey – I think would be worn off by the next day.

"I've played in a few of these games the day after Thanksgiving,and I've never felt slowed down by the Thanksgiving meal. Personally I don't put too much thought into it. I'm going to try to enjoy it Thursday,eat as much as I like or don't like,and just get ready to play the game. But it's a bigger deal this year being on NBC,and we happen to be playing against the Detroit Red Wings,another team that's had success in recent years,and with our success last year it should be set up for a real good game."   
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