If that seems a stretch, consider the importance of visual attachment to his success, and all the times the smaller Thomas tracked a puck through traffic to make a big save, or somehow managed to find and cover it in a mad scramble, or seemed to know exactly where it was headed while making a diving stop.
If you ask former playing partner Alex Auld, it was all about vision.
“His biggest asset was his eyes,” Auld told InGoal. “He has the best eyes 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 it 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.”
So the fact Thomas credits his new cage for allowing those eyes to find the puck more easily, says a lot about its importance to his amazing season.
The only goalie in the NHL to wear the Sportmask Mage set up – part mask, part 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.
“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,” Thomas told InGoal. “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.”
What Thomas may not know is his personal preference actually started out as a Darth Vader mask, according to the Tony Calabro, whose company OTNY Enterprises LTD supplies the wire cages for several major mask manufacturers.
“When I made that the first time it was for a Darth Vader costume,” Calabro told InGoal. “I was going to a show and I wanted it square so I was going to put an accordion where the mouth area is and Tony (Priolo) from Sportmask saw that and asked can we change this, this, and this. And I said ‘why would you want to do that?’ and he said ‘I’m going to get Tim Thomas to wear it, he likes it like that.’ I thought that was weird, but next thing I know the guy has it on.”
The rest, as they say, is history. NHL history, that is, for the multiple record-setting Thomas and his Darth Vader cage.