Monday, June 27, 2011
... a character from an Ayn Rand Novel. (But in a good way.)
Catching up on HBL, I ran into a link, submitted by Jared Rhoads, about the unorthodox goalie of the Boston Bruins, who recently won the Stanley Cup.
In 1980 a five-year-old [Tim] Thomas watched goaltender Jim Craig play beyond his means to lead Team USA to its Miracle on Ice victory over the Soviet Union and, with a win over Finland two days later, the Olympic gold medal. "From then on," says Thomas, "I wanted to be a goalie." Within a few years Tim Sr. and his wife, Kathy, had pawned their wedding rings for $300 so they could send Tim to a peewee tournament. The father sold cars and, later, local produce, and at 16 the son went door-to-door peddling bushels of apples. "He was determined to be the best at that too," says Tim Sr., 57. "Sometimes if people wouldn't answer the door, he'd peek around the back to go find them. He'd sell about five bushels and make $40, and he'd stay out until he made it."Had Rand written a sports novel, I could see her putting something like the story behind the Rip Van Winkle nickname in.
In his yearbook at Davison (Mich.) High, Thomas was dubbed Rip Van Winkle because he could sleep through classes yet still maintain an A average, frustrating teachers by having the right answer when they woke him up. "I don't think it was hard enough for him," Tim Sr. says with a smile. He fondly recalls Tim's high school paper on his ambitions and goals. There was no mention of hockey; instead he wrote of hoping to live up to Tim Sr.'s example as a husband and father of two.
Thomas, on the small side for an NHL goalie and defying accepted conventions for playing the position, had a hard time reaching the highest professional level of the game, but he persisted against skeptics and long odds alike.
Given the NHL's preference for tall goalies who fill up the net, Thomas's height, generously listed at 5'11", did not help his cause. But more than that, the advent of the butterfly technique had caused goaltending to become a matter of puck repulsion by geometric equation, with an emphasis on positioning in order to cut down angles and allow only for openings up high, which are tougher for shooters to hit. Thomas's style is intuition over science. He scrambles from his crease, attacking shooters, relying on instinct and reflex, even embracing contact with screeners to get better looks at pucks, the boy diving into the bushes. It's fun to watch and maddening to face. "You can't really scout him," says one rival NHL goalie coach, "because he has no pattern." His unusual approach was enough to make general managers leery of signing him. And he still must deal with the occasional skeptic. Thomas hosted a clinic three years ago along with Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa when one prospective netminder, a 10-year-old girl, watched his demonstration and said, "But wait, that's wrong."Unsurprisingly, Thomas, whose college major was English, "was especially taken with Atlas Shrugged, ..., which he reread this year," and credits it with "influenc[ing] my life and even the way I play goal."
I don't normally follow hockey, and saw only the end of the last game of the Stanley Cup this year, but after reading this, I really wish I had.
I do, however, now have a standing order to catch a Bruins game next season just to see this man in action. He sounds like he'd be fun to watch.