WASHINGTON, D.C. Tim Thomas was one of the first waves of Bruins players to retreat off the ice at the Verizon Center Tuesday morning, and that normally means the 37-year-old goaltender is readying for a night stopping pucks against the Capitals.
But it was no normal day for Thomas, and it was difficult to determine whether his exit meant he was starting or simply giving himself enough time to dress and get out of dodge before the bothersome questions began.
Thomas wasnt in the Bs visiting dressing room when it opened up for the media access portion of the afternoon, and once again his teammates were thrust into the role of answering for the oldest guy on the team. The goaltender has not offered in-person comments about skipping Mondays White House visit, and it appears that Tuesday wont be the day he goes beyond a Facebook post.
His Bruins teammates were uniform in stating Thomas political actions wouldnt be a distraction, and it was about his right to individual expression. Nobody might be more understanding of that than Andrew Ference, who has his own deep-rooted personal and political beliefs that can sometimes butt heads with the collective group.
Its something that was a very rare opportunity. All of us made our own individual decision to go because its a good thing, said Ference, serving out the second game of a three-game suspension vs. the Caps. I think as everybody has already said its his decision. He believes strongly in things, and, well, so be it. Its not for us to really delve into because its his business.
I obviously have a different viewpoint. I think this a wonderful country. The government has done so much for us. I think thats why we were so thrilled to go because we had a different viewpoint. Everybody has a different point of view and thats this country as well, right?
Steve Kampfer, like Thomas, is a Michigan native and was honored as one of only three US native team members invited to visit the Presidents home on Pennsylvania Ave. There was no hesitation in the young defenseman when it came to visiting something as symbolically significant as the White House, and getting a behind-the-scenes look at something he pored over for four years in Ann Arbor.
Its Timmys decision. Its his beliefs and his right to do whatever he wants. We all had a great time going to the White House, said Kampfer. For me it was a dream come true because I studied politics in school. I was a political science major in school, so to shake the Presidents hand was awesome. Its something Ill never forget.
Peter Chiarelli reiterated there would be no disciplinary actions levied against Thomas because of a personal decision to decline President Barack Obamas invitation but there will certainly be questions for Thomas until theyre sufficiently answered by people curious about his decision.
Im not going to regulate free speech, said Chiarelli, who confirmed he spoke with Thomas several times imploring him to change his mind about his White House absence. Tim is his own person. Hes been that way for the five or six years that Ive known him. That hasnt changed and it wont change. We won a Stanley Cup and were doing well this year."
This didnt come across my desk last week." continued Chiarelli, "This is something Ive known about for three months. I know what his beliefs are and his political position is. That statement was entirely consistent with his position.
If Thomas plays Tuesday night against the Capitals he could face a healthy collection of boos from a Washington-centric crowd already viewing him as the opposition. Things could be really interesting a week from today at TD Garden when the Bruins open up the traditional second-half with the Ottawa Senators. Thomas will clearly get a healthy dose of those questions from the national hockey media during the upcoming All-Star weekend in Ottawa.
One has to wonder what the Bruins will do organizationally if their fervent, proud fan base takes Thomas decision personally, and voices their disapproval early and often with loud booing. Its hard to envision that given his heroics in the Cup win, but politics-based reactions are sometimes difficult to gauge.
Thomas could simply throw a shutout down Ottawas throat and have the fan base on his side again once the conversation shifts to hockey rather than Tea Party politics. Its easy to envision the Bruins simply bulldozing over this most current speed bump and continuing on their merry way into the playoffs with Thomas.
Players like Milan Lucic indicated they knew well ahead of time Thomas wasnt going to attend the White House event, and theyre very familiar with his conservative-leaning beliefs. Theyve been able to win with Thomas espousing his beliefs before, and its something most feel like they can simply do again whether or not he decries the government publicly.
Weve had the same group of guys around here for how many years now? Were the same group of people, said Ference. Its not like the locker room all of a sudden changed one day. Its the same people, its the same personalities and we all know each other extremely well.
Were all practically married to each other. Its not like there are any secrets about viewpoints or personalities." continued Ference, "Maybe its interesting for everybody else to read on the outside, but for us its another day. Its the same family weve had for the last few years. It hasnt changed the dynamics for us.
Its difficult to argue with Ference, but theres also this: an entire nation of US citizens werent as familiar with Thomas individual beliefs as they are this time around. As always the people will decide how his actions are ultimately received, and his teammates will decide if things ever become a distraction.