Tim Thomas has put hockey behind him, but his election into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Wednesday provided an opportunity for him to look back on one of the more unorthodox professional playing careers in recent memory.
Selected by the Quebec Nordiques in the ninth round (No. 217) of the 1994 NHL Draft, Thomas played in Europe, the American Hockey League and ECHL before sticking in the NHL with the Boston Bruins for good in 2005-06 at 31 years old. In the following eight seasons, he would win the Vezina Trophy twice (2009, 2011) and help the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup championship in 38 seasons in 2011. His 214 wins are ninth among U.S.-born goalies and his 31 shutouts are tied for seventh.
Thomas will be honored along with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, former NHL forward Brian Gionta, Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club co-founder Neal Henderson, and two-time U.S. Olympian Krissy Wendell at the Hall's 47th induction ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 12. The Lester Patrick Trophy, awarded annually for outstanding service to hockey in the United States, will be presented on that date as well.
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"It all stands out if you take the time to look at it and process it, which I've been doing over the last few years," Thomas said of his hockey career. "From the time I spent in Finland, winning a championship (1997-98) and being part of what that feeling feels like, going to my first World Championship (1995) in Sweden, seeing what that experience is like. Then going and playing in Stockholm (AIK, 2000-01) for a year, an awesome old city. Then it just goes on. Providence (AHL) was a great experience when I lived out there, and Boston. I got to see a couple different places the last season I played, with Florida and Dallas, and you throw in all the guys that you meet, all the people you look back on. You can spend a lot of time looking back at all the people and all the little things that they did for you to allow you to do what you did, that you wouldn't have been able to do without them. My whole career, my whole life in hockey stands out."
One of Thomas' fondest hockey memories is winning the Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy while helping the Bruins win the Cup in 2011, joining Bernie Parent of the Philadelphia Flyers (1974, 1975) as the only goalies to win all three in the same season.
"Anybody who could just semi put themselves in my shoes for just a minute, with that season, it was amazing for me, it was amazing for my teammates, it was amazing for the city," Thomas said. "It was an amazing year. I think it's similar for every team that wins a championship, whatever city they're in. But my experience was in Boston. The energy the 2 million people projected in that parade that we had after we won, it was pretty wild."
Since playing his last NHL game with the Dallas Stars in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Thomas has disconnected himself from his life in hockey and appears to have little interest in plugging back in.
"I don't personally have any relationship with the game," he said. "My focus and mind is on learning about other stuff. I learned so much about hockey and that area. I feel like I learned as much as I needed to learn from it. My focus is on learning about other stuff.
"As far as me getting more involved with the game of hockey, I just don't see it. I have other interests. … I live in a totally different world than the hockey world that I lived in before."