Haggerty: Writing off Thomas led to success

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Haggerty: Writing off Thomas led to success

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

RALEIGH, N.C. Tim Thomas had an inkling there might be something special on tap for him this season.

But he kept all of that to himself when his hockey year began.

To just about everyone in the hockey world Thomas was a 36-year-old goaltender coming off major hip surgery, and looking to rebound from a subpar season when it comes to his lofty puck-stopping standards.

Tank had also lost his job to Tuukka Rask as last had unfolded for the Bruins, and admitted there were doubts about what would happen in Boston.

So to say the chips were cast downward for Thomas wouldnt be overstating it.

But anyone that knows Thomas the success story also knows that being stuck in the shadow of doubt is when he does his best work.

Doubt him, paint him into a corner or try to keep him down, and he fights with everything in his considerable power.

So Thomas worked harder than he ever had before last summer to both rehab his surgically repaired hip and to shut plenty of people up.

Then something amazing happened: he became even better than he was during his Vezina season of two years ago. The first of many honors was coming back to his third straight NHL All-Star game.

The All-Star game was a goal of mine, and the season was too. They kind of go hand in hand to a certain extent, said Thomas, who participated in the first ever one-on-one goalie sprint in the fastest skater competition during the SuperSkills challenge on Saturday night. I was thinking about this year all summer. I actually talked to an uncle before the season, and I was looking at the season in boxing terms. I was going into the biggest fight of my life.

Thats the way I went into all summer, and I was training for it like it was the biggest fight of my life. I was rehabbing my hip and training at the same time. I wanted to see how good I could be before it was too late. Thats how I really approached it this summer.

True to Thomas form, he sped right into the biggest fight of his life and knocked adversitys block off with a series of big right-handed paws.

Thomas is now dropping jaws in the hockey world from Sunrise, Florida to Thunder Bay with the greatest season by a goaltending in the modern NHL era through the All-Star break with less than 40 games remaining to be played.

Thomas leads the NHL with a 1.88 goals against average, a .945 save percentage, seven shutouts and is enjoying the best season for a goaltender in the modern era of the NHL a notion confirmed by the fact no goalie has carried a save percentage so high this late into a season since the numbers first starting being recorded officially as a statistic.

He seems to be a shoo-in for his second Vezina Trophy provided he can maintain something close to his current pace in the second half of the year, and theres little doubt hell get Hart Trophy consideration if he can keep things up.

Thomas would be the first Hart Trophy winner since Jose Theodore won it for the Montreal Canadiens in 2001-02, and before that Dominik Hasek the goalie Thomas is most often compared to in style and action between the pipes -- won it in two straight seasons for the Buffalo Sabres from 1996-98.

His fellow All-Star goalies know theyre watching something special, and thats obvious with the collective shaking of the head a reporter receives when the subject of Thomas season is brought up as topic of conversation.

Its amazing really, said Cam Ward. I look at those numbers, and I shake my head and ask how is he doing that? Its a credit to him. Hes obviously having a great year and playing at the top of his game. A .945 save percentage? If he lets in two goals his save percentage is going to drop!

Watching him play, hes very determined and he works hard on every puck. Its really paying off for him.

Thomas had some doubts in his head coming into the season amid trade rumors and surgery, but he simply hasnt looked back once after reclaiming his starting job in the second game against the Phoenix Coyotes in Prague.

Since then he battled through some shaky defensive performances by the Bruins early on when he constantly faced odd-man rushes and breakaways, but things have settled in lately for both goaltender and team.

I know nobody got to witness my lockout year in Finland, but that was close to this. And my first year out of college in Finland was close to this. It wasnt the NHL stage, but if you look at my numbers they were very similar, said Thomas, who was asked how much was him and how much was a result of solid Bruins defense. I wasnt blaming my defense or anything, but the reality is that the new NHL is just harder on goalies than the old NHL.

This year has been a mix: there have been some times when the team has really relied on me and there have been other times when the team played well and has bailed me out on a few occasions. Im just thinking of Pittsburgh when we came back and won 7-4, and came back against them. Especially over the last 2-3 weeks, though, the team has played very solidly in front of me and its taken a lot less energy from me.

With two Vezina Trophies and perhaps a Stanley Cup or two in his future if things go exceedingly well along with a great success story of dogged triumph over the odds theres always the kind of late career run that the Hockey Hall of Fame loves to reward as they did with one of Thomas hockey heroes, Johnny Bauer.

The Stanley Cup is still missing from my resume, said Thomas. The Hall of Fame is still a pipe dream. If it ever happened it would be because I was focusing on the now -- and just playing as hard as I could for as long as I could.

The fact that things like the Hart Trophy, Hall of Fame and Stanley Cup are being mentioned in conversation with Thomas means a couple of different things: Thomas is even better now than he was during his Vezina Trophy season, and nobody should ever doubt him again in a career dominated by doubters continuously proven wrong.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Heinen looking to be dark-horse candidate for Bruins' roster

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Heinen looking to be dark-horse candidate for Bruins' roster

While much of the focus is going to be on the young D-men headed into Bruins training camp, it would be foolhardy to overlook a forward prospect Danton Heinen, who is in position for a real dark horse run at an NHL roster spot. 

The strong odds are that the former University of Denver star is going to be begin the season in the AHL for the Providence Bruins after putting up a couple of points in four games there at the end of last season.

Still, that certainly hasn’t stopped Heinen from setting his sights on an NHL spot out of this fall’s camp, most likely in a third- or fourth-line capacity to start things off, or perhaps at the top-six right wing spots that have given the Bruins some problems filling permanently over the past couple of seasons.

Either way, the 2014 fourth-round pick knows that his clock to fulfilling his dreams as an NHL player has started and that it’s up to him when he can start making that a reality.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to work toward my whole life, so I’m just going to try to keep getting better, have a good rest of the summer and then put my best foot forward to see what happens,” said Heinen, who had an assist and a sweet goal in the Friday scrimmage at development camp when he twisted D-man Cam Clarke around like a pretzel on a nifty rush to the net. “I just need to continue to get stronger this summer, and working on my skating to get a bit quicker.

“[The AHL] was a lot of fun to get in there and see what it was all about. It was a lot different than college hockey, and it was definitely good to get a taste of it. [Bruins officials] told me to have a really big summer getting faster and getting stronger, so that’s what I’ve been doing.”

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Heinen, 21, continued to show in development camp last week, however, that he has the playmaking skills and hockey IQ to flourish while surrounded by more accomplished players and in tighter situations. It’s exactly what he showed while posting 36 goals and 93 points in his freshman and sophomore seasons for the Pioneers and it was what he showed while finishing last week as one of the best forwards in camp.

“He’s looked really good at [development] camp. He’s a smart player, he’s committed and I think you’ll notice him in training camp. It will be up to him, but I think he’ll definitely be pushing some guys [for an NHL job],” said Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo, who was running the Bruins development camp. “He looked good [in Providence]. He fit in well. He’s the type of player that can play with good players because he’s got high hockey IQ, and he’s got really good skill.

“Anywhere you put him he’s smart enough to figure it out. You could tell in his first game there was a little bit of an adjustment for him, but the second time game it really looked like he’d been playing [at that level] for a long time. He’s a quick study, and he looked really good last year.”

The Black and Gold management hope he continues to look good at main NHL training camp in a couple of months, where he’ll undoubtedly be featured, and could be a lot closer than many people think as a polished skill forward coming out of a big-time college hockey program. 

Saturday, July 23: Hammer Time for VP pick Kaine with Caps

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Saturday, July 23: Hammer Time for VP pick Kaine with Caps

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while everybody is working for the weekend...or during the weekend.

*The vice-presidential candidate for Hillary Clinton, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, made quite an impression while hanging out a Capitals game with MC Hammer. They call this guy boring, but that doesn’t sound very boring to me.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Bob Stauffer has the news that the Edmonton Oilers are parting ways with fancy stats lad Tyler Dellow. Boy, it seems like some teams are reversing course pretty quickly on some of these smarter-than-thou advanced statistics types, aren’t they? I certainly wish Dellow well and hope he finds another gig. But Instead of baselessly wondering whether the Oilers are going to continue down the fancy stats road (which they most certainly will), perhaps this is more a referendum on nonsensical stats-driven decisions like handing out that long term contract to a perpetually underachieving Benoit Pouliot.

*The New York Rangers have locked up Chris Kreider to a four-year contract at a reasonable number, and now he has the time with the Blueshirts to see how good he can be.

*Brian Leetch opens up to the Players Tribune about his NHL experiences playing with the New York Rangers, and all of his favorite experiences from a Hall of Fame career.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker says that Carey Price’s injury from last season is no longer a concern, according to Habs coach Michel Therrien.

*The Chicago Blackhawks will appear a whopping 21 times on national television across the NBC Networks next season.

*Incoming BU goaltender Jake Oettinger is among the names to look out for at the 2017 draft, according to the NHL Central Scouting bureau.

*Travis Yost says that the Carolina Hurricanes are on the rise thanks to winning the shot differential battle. I think it’s because they have an outstanding cast of young defensemen, who are helping them control the puck and win that shot differential battle. But they still need to score more if they’re going to really be a team on the rise, so we’ll see what happens there.

*For something completely different: for those that think I’m a Democrat because I am anti-Trump, here’s a story on the DNC machinery attempting to torpedo Bernie Sanders during the presidential campaigning over the last year.
 

 

Friday, July 22: Versteeg headed for Europe

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Friday, July 22: Versteeg headed for Europe

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading, while vowing to never try to marry the NHL and Pokemon into the same lame story.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has Kris Versteeg one of a number of NHL veteran free agents going to Europe for next season.

*The New York Islanders have reportedly been discussing moving to Queens and building a rink right next to the Mets’ Citi Field. Interesting. I know the Isles fan base was not happy with the setup in Brooklyn last season.

*The Black Knights get the top odds as a moniker for the Las Vegas franchise with a number of funny long shot names.

*Ian Mendes said that it’s pretty clear by the moves of the Ottawa Senators that they believe their time is now.

*Jason Botchford wonders if the Vancouver Canucks have a shot at being a playoff team next season. I hope so for Jim Benning’s sake.

*Ken Campbell wants to know if Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier, now that they’re both retired, are Hall of Fame-worthy players. I say no to both of them, but I can be stingy with my Hall of Fame qualifications as the Jarome Iginla fanboys know so well.

*For something completely different: Jon Stewart brought the funk and the noise while breaking his TV silence on Thursday night and tearing into a GOP that’s coming apart at the seams right now.