Head to toe, equipment a part of Tim Thomas success
When it comes to the remarkable bounce back season being crafted by Boston’s Tim Thomas, it has been well documented that the biggest difference between this year and last is a surgically repaired hip.
With the NHL lead in goals-against average (1.49) and save percentage (.955) and shutouts (five) – all ridiculous numbers two months and 19 games played into the season – as well as a top-three ranking with 14 wins through Tuesday, Dec. 7, Thomas’s season deserves even more analysis.
So InGoal Magazine, having already fully examined both the injury and increased technical work in an earlier article, and how his “empty the mind and react” mantra is becoming more necessary as shooters and the game evolve against butterfly saves, decided to have some fun and take a look beyond the hip to the extremities and focus on the skates and mask.
Believe it or not, there is significance to both.
Starting with the bottom, the skates are key to the quickness that has always been key to Thomas’s success. As much as he has added proper leg recoveries and backside butterfly pushes to his arsenal during the last five years (more on that in the above-mentioned article on technique), Thomas recovers to his skates more than anyone in the game not named Brodeur before moving after a save – and usually quicker.
Generating the precision behind these movements – and the power behind pushes that follow, whether into a sprawling headfirst dive like the Save of the Year candidate that earned him this week’s 3 Star nod, or a smooth butterfly slide – are the skates, which Thomas says are custom profiled to a 28-foot radius.
“My hollow is 5/16,” Thomas wrote in an email to InGoal shortly after the game in Toronto on Saturday night. “That’s pretty deep but a lot of NHL goalies are using deeper hollows nowadays. We need it for the big pushes cross crease. I get them sharpened when I have to. I lose edges when hitting the post or sometimes from the sticks of the other team or occasionally my own teammates. Carbon sticks can take an edge off a skate pretty easily. If it’s just an outside edge I usually don’t get them sharpened.”
That’s because even Thomas, for all his wild scrambling, is just like all other goalies in that he only needs that inside edge to push around the ice. And just like all other goalies, he needs to see where he’s going, even if nobody else can sometimes figure out how he’s going to get there. But unlike most other goalies, Thomas played an active role in making sure he can see.
Which brings us back to his head.
The only goalie in the NHL to wear the Sportmask Mage set up – part mask, part old-school cage – that he helped design, Thomas went back to the drawing board with the company’s founder and mask maker, Tony Priolo, this summer.
Together they made some adjustment, specifically to the cage, and Thomas has noted the improvements as a reason for his play in several interviews since.
“Timmy told me he sometimes would lose sight of the puck if it flew up in the air off a deflection and there are a cluster of bars on the cat eye cage just above the brow that gave him these issues,” Priolo told InGoal in an email. “The new cage eliminates the distraction cause the bars are gone.”
“I can tell you firsthand this is true as I have his mask on right now as I type this. If I look up there a clearer view indeed, than that of the cat eye design. Also, the eye openings are large enough to be unobstructive yet small enough to block the stick blade from coming through easily. I do know from data collected throughout the years that some people prefer perpendicular lines opposed to curves. Timmy is one of those guys that prefers perpendicular lines. He wore a CSA style cage all through the early part of his career and said he ‘looked through’ this design best. So this cage has larger openings than CSA, yet small enough to really make it tough for a stick blade to go through. The best of both worlds.”
Obviously sight is important. And for anyone wondering about the significance, just ask Montreal backup Alex Auld, who played briefly with Thomas in Boston, about the importance of vision to his game.
“His biggest asset was his eyes,” Auld told InGoal Magazine during a recent Ask A Pro segment. “He has the best eyes of anyone I ever played with. He always had his eyes on the puck and that’s so huge for him and what allows him to make those amazing saves. He can be down and out and its looks like the puck is for sure going to end up in the net, but because he is still looking he can still throw an arm up or kick a leg out and still make a save and it’s because of his ability to keep watching the puck. His eyes are incredible.”
Add that to some pretty impressive feet with some incredibly sharp edges, and there are two more reasons why Thomas is once again the best goaltender in the NHL, and poised to add another Vezina Trophy to the one he won two years ago.
This story originally appeared in the InGoal Magazine weekly newsletter two days earlier, which gives subscribers first access to feature stories and interviews, special offers, and the chance to ask NHL goalies questions in our Ask a Pro segment. It’s free, so if you haven’t already, be sure to sign up and join the more than 8,000 goalies around the world who get it delivered in their email every Monday morning.