(Editor’s note: This Ask a Pro with Bruins’ star Tim Thomas was originally available only for subscribers to InGoal Magazine’s FREE weekly newsletter back in late February, and includes some of the comments used in the recent story about how adopting his “street hockey” approach makes him hard to scout and can benefit young goaltenders. If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up.)Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas needs no introduction, especially to InGoal Magazine readers.
The only thing documented more than the Vezina Trophy victory two seasons ago has been his return to trophy-winning form this season after surgery to repair a torn hip labrum that was so bad that he called himself a “one-legged goalie” last year, causing him to lose the starting job in Boston to Tuukka Rask.
That led to a lot of doubting from observers who quickly questioned whether anyone who played as unique a style as Thomas could be consistent, but as the Bruins’ veteran has proven over and over again throughout a career he was close to contentedly ending in Finland more than half a decade ago, doubting Thomas is never a good idea.
Here at InGoal Magazine, we’ve preferred to talk about all the unique things that help him thrive, from how a deeper skate sharpening and changing the cage on his mask have made him a better goalie this season, to how Yoga helped him identify and get through the hip injury and win the Vezina two seasons ago.
There are no shortage of good stories about Thomas, from selling apples door to door in Michigan with his dad during harder times, to breaking all his new sticks from Team USA after being a late cut from the World Junior team, to bow hunting bears in the summer. But most of all he is a passionate goaltender, one that has always been gracious with his time for InGoal Magazine, even answering questions over email once on the team flight back from a game in Montreal.
Thomas was generous with his time again this week, taking time to answer questions from our readers:
We’ll start with InGoal subscriber Adrian: “Dear Tim Thomas, Being a Bruins fan I remember when Tuukka took over for you last year and many I talked to thought you were done, possibly for good. What game has meant the most to you so far this year?
“The very first game in the Czech Republic was a big game for me. I was feeling really good after the surgery and after tall the work I put in over the summer, and just to be back playing, I guess. It seemed like a long summer because I knew I was feeling so much better over the summer that I was kind of chomping at the bit to play again. And I didn’t know going into camp exactly how I was going to feel because it was a long recovery all summer long and it felt better, but even at the beginning of camp it was still a little sore at times and stuff. But it didn’t take long to go away so that first game back.”
~ InGoal reader Travis Fluitt from Raleigh, NC, asks: “In a league that is often dominated by large goaltenders who use more of a blocking style, it seems that your smaller size has forced you to diversify your style to the betterment of your game. Can you comment on that, and what advice do you have for the rest of us non-6’5″ goalies out there?”
“100 per cent, I can’t go on my knees and cover the whole top corners with my shoulders, so I have to be selective with when I am down on my knees and selective with when I stand up and I’ve had to learn over the years to read whether a guy is shooting high or a guy is shooting low. And just years and years of practice kind of gives you the percentages in your head so at the time when you don’t know whether to stay down or go up you choose based on experience.”
~ Sol writes: “My son is a high school senior varsity goalie, soon to play in college. He has played since childhood & has the butterfly style deeply entrenched in his brain. His problem, which I see is the same with NHL Goalies, is dropping into butterfly & the shot is placed upstairs. Intellectually, he knows that he has to try to read the play & try to stand up to play the upstairs shots, but almost instinctively drops on the majority of shots & gets beat often because of this. How does he learn to stay up & read the upstairs shots better to break this automatic drop into the butterfly? It seems playing hybrid butterfly would be more effective against the upstairs shots. A lot of the opposition players have come to know that he automatically drops into the butterfly & can easily beat him by shooting upstairs, unless he makes a glove or blocker save, or gets lucky with a shoulder or takes a shot into his mask. Help!”
“I think you need to learn the technique and you need to practice the technique, but when it comes game time you have to do whatever it takes. Even in practice. You do the goalie drills in practice and work on the technique and then in the game you will use them when necessary. But then the rest of practice you don’t want to just get scored on while practicing technique all the time. You need to find a way to stop it, and play a little street hockey.
“Technique can help you move more efficiently, but once you are in position if the shot is going somewhere away from your body you have the have the ability to move your legs or move your arms. I’ve seen a lot of kids that have great technique but they turn into robots and it’s like their arms are glued to their sides and they don’t have the ability to throw a shoulder, or whatever it is. You have to be able to move out of that technique mode when need be.
“Some of the kids having trouble because they rely on technique too much could probably use some street hockey because when you have to move on your feet and stuff you can’t use the same technique so it will help you get out of it.”
~ InGoal Magazine follow up: We’ve heard from a lot of the big Swedish goaltenders coming into the NHL now that they didn’t get a lot of technical coaching until they were older, so they grew up learning to read and react
“That’s not a bad thing. There was no butterfly technique until I was 23 and at my first pro camp, and Jacques Cloutier in Colorado, he was trying to pound it in to my head and make me learn it, and at the time I didn’t like it because I was a pretty good goalies as it was. But it didn’t take me too long to realize the benefit of some of these things and I spent my whole rookie year, whether I was in the East Coast, the IHL or Finland – because I played in all three leagues that year – every practice, before practice and if I had the energy, after practice, I was practicing the techniques for proper movement.
“Not recovery so much, just the pushes. I didn’t even know the t-pushes. I didn’t even know how I was moving. I never even thought about it. I just did it. And part of me is still that was today. Getting myself into position nowadays I would say I use a lot of technique. the first save in general is a lot of technique. Just after the first save is when it kind of goes out the door.”
~ You still use proper leg recovery more than you used to, though, right?
“Yes, totally. While I have the ability to now because of the hip surgery. I had about two years there where I could only recover with one leg, honestly. I would go over it with Bob Essensa, the goalie coach, he would try to make me practice using the correct leg and it was just impossible, I couldn’t do it. I felt like a one-legged goalie.”
~ InGoal got almost a dozen questions about the gear Thomas wears, most of which had to do with his frequent switches among brands, or why he had mixed and matched this year, something reader Mitch Cayouette wanted to know about specifically: You’re using a Reebok blocker and a Vaughn catcher and pad, Is there a reason why you are doing so? The larceny Blocker are you just trying it out, or is it more protective or comfortable?
“Going into this year I just decided to basically wear the gear I felt more comfortable with, it doesn’t matter about the brand. And I really like the Reebok blocker. I have a Vaughn that, to be honest, I haven’t really given a fair chance because I just feel so comfortable with the Reebok. I have two, one has lasted me the first 50 games and just in the last couple of games I have been wearing the second one.
“Different blockers, the board is placed differently on the hand and I find the Reebok I am using is a pretty good compromise: It’s long enough (below the fingers) to get to that one that is just over the pad – it hangs down on the hand enough to get than one, but it’s also high enough up on the hand to help me get the high blocker ones (raises arm up above his shoulder). I like the positioning on the hand, and also it’s got good inner hand protection. I’ve had over the years I’ve had blockers that if you get that one shot that rides up your stick, it’s a stinger and it teaches you bad habits.”
~ Does the way it seals the ice in paddle down function in decision as well?
“It plays a role but it’s not on the top of the list as far as what I ant out fo a blocker, if it’s good at that, that’s a secondary aspect. And actually the Reebok is pretty good for that too.”
~ More questions about equipment – and the propensity to switch brands over the years – from Scott Christensen of Wauwatosa, WI, who says he “currently use Smith and you wearing them helped convince me to try them,” and Darin Ledwith, and Jason Ryan, who asks: What exactly do you look for in a set of pads?
“I had a friend from Toronto that put it a good way, but I was basically looking for a pad that didn’t make me play a certain way. I have a unique style as everybody knows and I was looking always for the best pad you can get, but one that doesn’t force me to play a certain way, that allows me to play the way that I want to play. Obviously you want a pad that if you do happen to be playing that type of butterfly game, it rotates well for that, but also lets you have options.”
~ InGoal Magazine newsletter subscriber Matt writes: Pleasure to have the opportunity, Tim … Can you tell us how ‘tight’ you strap your pads? P.S. I’m a Hab’s fan, but my money’s on the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup this year based on your play this season thus far.
“It’s somewhere in the middle but over the past couple of years I have actually had to get used to wearing the pads relatively loose and that’s part of why I switched to the Vaughn this year, was that I could wear it a little bit tighter. I don’t want it too tight, where you are actually working against the pad in movement so that takes extra energy, but one I could wear a little bit tighter than I had been so I can feel the support so when I go down in a butterfly I know your body gets the signals that the pad is going to be there. When you wear a pad too loose, sometimes your mind knows but your body doesn’t.”
~ Dave Snipes asks if there are any other mods done to your equipment and why?
“I’m pretty simple actually. Nothing major, just I like one-piece knee lifts. I don’t like the layered ones because they compress and when you go down and it’s first there it compresses further. When I go down I like that it’s there. That’s what I had on my Bauer the last couple of years.”
~ Jacob Brown, an InGoal reader and goaltender from Edmonton, AB, asks: What prompted you to redefine the “face” (mask) of goaltending that you now choose to wear? I’m a huge fan of the change because I can see the benefits that it could give a goaltender with the extra vision. And reader Daniel Heslop also asked about “the ‘Beaupre’ cage, and the sightlines compared to a catseye cage.”
“As a kid you grow up using the vertical bars and through college, so I was using vertical bars until age 23, so when I decided to go back and try it, it was an easy adjustment. It felt comfortable right away because I had already spent 18 years with the vertical bars. The cat eye, obviously, straight ahead you got great vision, but when it gets on its way into your body, I’ve always found that you lose the puck a little bit as it is getting really close to your body. It’s only like two or three feet out where you lose it and the puck ends up going into a jumble of bars there.
“And that’s one thing my new cage is better at. And also when the puck falls down into you, with the cat eyes I always had a hard time, even when you go to cover it I was only half seeing the puck but with the one I am wearing now I can really see it. Personal preference I guess, but I feel good with it.”
~ We’ve seen goalies suffer concussion-like symptoms with how hard players shoot these days, has that ever been a problem for you?
“Every person is different so I can’t say it’s totally the mask but I’ve never had a ringer. I’ve been hit hard in the jaw and you know it feels like you got punched lightly but as far as anything else that’s why I’m wearing the mask because I feel comfortable and safe in it and I’ve never had any bad experiences. It’s done well for me.”
~ And the final question goes to Mitchell Wiznuik, a 12-year-old goaltender in milton Ontario, who writes: I’m a AA goalie looking for a way to improve my Game to a AAA effort but how do I do that? And how do I get noticed?
“I’m the wrong guy to ask (laughs). I played forward for a week in Junior C because I was the third string goalie and I never got in the net. But I don’t think you can’t worry about being noticed to get somewhere else, you just need to do everything you can to stop the next shot you’re going to face wherever you are now, whether that’s in practice or a game.”