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Unpredictability of Tim Thomas changed everything for Boston

Unpredictability of Tim Thomas changed everything for Boston

Flyers struggled to pre-scout and break down Boston’s “street hockey” goalie

Boston Bruins Goalie Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas never looked back at a Bruins' playoff choke he wasn't part of last season (Scott Slingsby file photo)


With Boston up 3-0 on Philadelphia for a second straight second round of the playoffs, there was bound to be a lot of talk about the Flyers historic comeback from the same deficit last season. There are differences between the two years, however, and none was bigger than who is guarding the Bruins’ net.

Tim Thomas was on the bench with a hip that would eventually require surgery last season, unable to do anything but watch as Tuukka Rask and the Bruins coughed up both the 3-0 series lead and a 3-0 lead in Game 7.

“A 3-0 lead in the series is the same,” Thomas told reporters. “Everything else is different.”

Including the results, as Thomas and the Bruins completed the sweep of the Flyers on Friday night. Nine of Boston’s 20 players weren’t part of last season’s choke, but the biggest difference was Thomas. He gave up just seven goals in the series, improving his postseason save percentage to .937, back close to his Vezina Trophy finalist form of the regular season after a slow, sometimes-sloppy start to the playoffs against Montreal.

“You hear all the talk about what happened last year and you have to ignore it to be able to do what we just did,” Thomas said. “I’m glad it’s done with because the longer that series went, the more talk about last year.”

For Thomas, last year included a hip that required surgery and limited his mobility (it was so bad he could only get up on one leg). Now that its fixed and his movement is back, the Flyers admittedly had a hard time pre-scouting him.

Philadelphia video coach Adam Patterson told he pulled more than 100 video clips of the 112 goals Thomas gave up this season, and even then he and goalie coach Jeff Reese had trouble finding a weakness, in large part because Thomas isn’t a typical butterfly clone, part of a Dominic Hasek-like trend developing in these playoffs.

“You look at a guy like Ryan Miller and you can tell he’s as technically as sound a goalie as you’re going to get,” Patterson told “He’s a big guy, square to the shooter. Then you watch a guy like Thomas and there isn’t one particular shot or flaw that you can pinpoint. The goals are all different on this guy. He’s a battler, he never quits. It’s hard to give the players particular reads.

“With Miller, we had some things where we were telling the guys where to shoot and things to do – saying he’s aggressive and to look back door when he’s out of his net. But with Thomas, he’s a little bit of that, but like Jeff said, he’s predictable yet unpredictable. He does stuff that a lot of goalies don’t do. He just tries to stop the puck and he’ll do it any way possible. He’ll get down and won’t care what it is, whether it goes off his head or whatever.”

Patterson told players almost need a “street hockey mentality” around Thomas’ crease, which is ironic since Thomas has used the same “street hockey” analogy to describe his own approach to competing for pucks in the past.

Tim Thomas promotes a little "street hockey" goaltending for young kids. (Scott Slingsby photo)

For all the talk of his unorthodox saves, and how that makes it harder to scout and break down his game, Thomas has improved technically over the years, something he’s stressed in regular conversations with InGoal. And for all the times he talked technique, however, he sees too much reliance on it among young kids:

“Some of the kids having trouble because they rely on technique too much could probably use some street hockey,” Thomas told InGoal late in the regular season. “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.”

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.


  1. paul szabo

    I think that Thomas’ comments apply in particular to younger and-or smaller goalies who sometimes try to play that more static, positional style but aren’t big enough to block much of the net. They end up getting discouraged because they try to play the percentages when they need to use more patience and react to the shot or, as Thomas often says, do whatever it takes to make the save.

    Thomas is a great ambassador for those of us who aren’t big but still hope to find a way to play well.

  2. Matt in Montreal

    The Bolts/Bruins match-up is gonna be a (Bob Cole:) dandy!

  3. Christian

    Well, first I should introduce myself. I’m 34, from Germany, and reading this mag since months. Currently I’m playing inline skaterhockey (league), and just4fun hockey on ice by occassion. This article describes exactly what I’m thinking, and my current problems getting back into hockey since years of complete sports absence 😉

    I’ve started playing inline-hockey (you know, a puck, but most times a ball, with inline skates on sports courts) as I was about 22. I’m a small and real thin guy, but I can remember I’ve robbed so much sure goals from the shooters on rebounds without using any technique, but just getting some part of my body in between.

    During some breaks because of work I’ve played rarely, and got finally the occassion to play “real” hockey on ice from time to time. It turned out very well for me, switched to the modern style butterfly and things, away from the patient, standup and Hasek like style before. On the ice it works very well for me, as long as the shooters don’t go top shelf from short distance (which is rare in hobby/beer leagues).

    The real surprise came last year. After 4-5 years total absence from sports I began to start playing again, inline skaterhockey, with ball, sports courts etc. What a looser I was. Devastating save percentage, completely week at rebounds, glove hand was even more worse. I thought “ok, I haven’t played since years, maybe I just need to have patience until I’m back in shape. No luck. Confidence goes down, my coach lost trust.

    Then again, for occassion, I could play several times on ice again this year. Many good saves, glove hand, butterfly, all worked, some bad goals, but this just happens. I’ve played for fun with or against some german juniors, and even a defender who just ended his career after one german championship, almost 100 international games and 1994 olympics. Ok, finaly he made me look like a rented mule a couple of minutes before ice time ends, I think he was pissed because he didn’t score yet. But this made me really think.

    And I came to the same conclusion as Tim. I had turned myself slowly into a robot. Shot, go down, arms to the body, hope that it hits me. Works most of the timewith a puck because I guess I’m still quick on my reflexes. But doesn’t work with a ball.So now I’m trying to get rid of the “bad habbits”, that would help me both on sports courts and on the ice.

    If you watch modern goaltending DVD’s, you see robots. Kids are teached to choose the save technique because of position, not on actually what happens. That may work on the first shot, but not on rebounds, where more play by instinct is needed.

    Anyways, I love this mag, and it already helped me rethink and improve my play, gameday preperation, and many many of these “little things you have to do right”.



  4. D

    Christian –

    You’re right. I think the butterfly is over-taught, simply because it’s a definable system that helps goalie coaches put the position into a box. Hockey goaltending has always been an instinctual position. I appreciate the technique, and it’s important to secure the fundamentals. It’s also perfectly OK for a goalie to improvise. If I’m ever coaching a hockey team, and I have two goaltenders, the robot will play less. I need a competitor, not a clone.

  5. xz

    totally agree with thomas and paul szabo. i’m a smaller goalie too and i was always taught to never give up and do whatever it takes to just (as darren pang said) “Stop Pucks!”


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