Along with his columns, this season James Duthie will be talking hockey (and other things) with the biggest stars, newsmakers, and characters in the game. This week James goes 1-on-1 with Boston goalie Tim Thomas, who just broke a Bruins record by starting the season 7-0. He has only given up 5 goals in those seven games, and leads the NHL in every major goaltending statistical category.
James Duthie: You gave up two goals Wednesday night. That must be pretty embarrassing for a guy who had a .50 goals-against average going in. I'm frankly surprised Claude Julien didn't pull you after the second one.
Tim Thomas: (laughs) I think the coach didn't know what to do. I'd hadn't put him in that situation this year.
JD: Be honest. Did it actually cross your mind when they scored that giving up two goals was going to balloon your save percentage and GAA?
TT: It did for a second, but that's a terrible way to think. You start the season just thinking about the wins, but when you have the kind of streak I had, you can't help but think about the numbers a little bit. So for a split second, yeah. But then reality set in. It was 4-2 with more than 10 minutes left, and I had to get my head straight and remember the priority, to get the win.
JD: How do you explain this start? 7-0, .977 save percentage, 0.72 goals against. That's just silly.
TT: You can't explain it. But I worked extremely hard to get to a spot where I could hopefully have this success. I got my head on straight this summer, and I got my physical condition where it needed to be.
JD: What do you mean when you say, "I got my head on straight?" How crooked was it?
TT: The summer after winning the Vezina was crazy. When you have success, it gets wild. There are so many interviews, so many things going on. I didn't really have that summer off. I usually go to Vermont for at least a month to get away, but there were TV crews even coming up there to do interviews. But this summer, I had surgery on my hip and was basically homebound, then I was able to have that month away in Vermont to rehab. I was just able to step back, to get re-grounded and remember where I came from, what it took me to get there, and what it would take me to have success again. And for me, that basically boils down to hard work.
JD: Sounds a little like Rocky 4, where he got spoiled, then went back to his old school training, running up the mountains in the snow in Russia.
TT: (laughs) Hey, I had to rehab the hip carefully so I wasn't running up mountains and bench-pressing carts full of stones. But mentally it was the same thing.
JD: Hip surgery sounds painful, especially for a goalie.
TT: No, the guy who did my surgery, Dr. Brian Kelly, did such a good job, I could tell in two days it was better. That pain that I had been living with for a long time, this knifing pain, was gone The hardest thing for me, actually, was slowing myself down, because I was really driven. So slowing myself down was a challenge.
JD: I heard at training camp you almost crushed the field in the shuttle run, but had a little trouble at the end.
TT: (laughs) Well, I wasn't really in running shape yet. It's three 300-yard shuttles. 25 yards and back six times. I went all out in the first two and was ahead of everybody. I was smokin' the times. And then the third one halfway through I hit the wall, and I was done. I think they all thought I was going to die. I was disappointed because I wanted to do it so bad, but (Boston assistant general manager) Don Sweeney told me a couple of days later how impressed everyone was, and that made me feel better. Because in my head, I had failed miserably.
JD: Did you have one of those legendary Tim Thomas meltdowns when you didn't finish that race the way you wanted?
TT: No. I was too tired. I was just trying not to die. And the other reason is, that's another thing I've tried to change this year. I want to keep the competitiveness without the childishness. Even in practice, I'm so competitive, I start yelling at my teammates too much when they are scoring on me, calling them names. I used to say a lot of mean things to the guys who scored on me in practice. I'd just lose it. So this year, I'm trying really hard to not go over the edge. If they score, I'm nicer. I might even say, "Good shot." But I still will say stuff if I stop them, like "Not today." I used that on Nathan Horton, and now on the bus, or in the locker room, every time he walks by, he says, "Not today, Timmy!"
JD: This "Nice Tim" thing saddens me. I love Angry Tim. Don't take this wrong, but some of my favourite moments are when you lose a shootout, and you get so mad, you are off the ice and down the tunnel at Usain Bolt-speed.
TT: (laughs) Well, that may still happen. But verbally, I'm trying to control myself much better.
JD: Such a shame. I have several favourite Angry Tim stories. Like when you were playing at Vermont, and you got mad when they scored on you in practice, so you threw the puck up and busted all the lights in the scoreboard. Or when you broke all the goalie sticks when they cut you from the U.S. World Junior camp. Do you have a favourite?
TT: Probably the one at the juniors. When I broke the scoreboard, that was a temper tantrum. But when I got cut from the juniors, that was justifiable anger. I thought I should have made that team. They bought me a dozen sticks at that camp, more than I'd had my entire life. I used to have to take the brackets you use to hold two pieces of wood together and use them for reinforcements so my sticks would last, because I had to buy my own. So when they gave me a dozen sticks, that was a big deal. But when I got cut, I was so mad, I took them into the shower area, and broke every stick.
JD: So now we have this new Tim Thomas who is calmer and nicer. Are you telling me that's the reason for this amazing start?
TT: No, I think it's a whole bunch of small critical things. The peace I'm feeling in my mind, my physical conditioning, the fact the hip is healthy and I can move, and I think the new cage I'm wearing has made a huge difference.
JD: Really? The cage?
TT: For some reason last year I really struggled with my cage, even though it was the same one I was wearing before. But I was having trouble when the puck was down close to my body, I couldn't find it. And when the puck bounced up in the air, I'd lose it. If you go back to Game 7 against Carolina two years ago, even though I don't want to re-live it, the rebound that went up in the air and Scott Walker batted it out of the air and in…when the puck went up, I think the bars in my cage blocked it. With my new cage, when the puck is in the air, I can always follow it.
JD: Did your motivation this summer come from the fact you had gone from Vezina winner to back-up, behind Tuuka Rask?
TT: Whenever you get put in those situations, they say if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger. The lesson I learned last year was that even if I wasn't playing, I had to remain a good teammate. And that was difficult at the beginning. I started to withdraw from the team a little bit. But I realized I had to be a good teammate. I knew that, but I had to relearn it. But it was a tough year. Coach Claude (Julien) would come to me, saying "I know you can work harder." But I couldn't, because I couldn't move. But now with my hip better, my ability to work hard every day came back.
JD: Phil Kessel or Tyler Seguin?
TT: You are trying to get me in trouble. Phil is a great player, being on Team USA with him last year, I loved watching him. But Tyler's on my team now and his Dad went to Vermont, so we have a connection. So I'm not picking.
JD: Angry Tim would have picked. Did the Bruins ask you in the off-season if you'd be willing to be traded?
TT: That's private. I'm sorry.
JD: How about this: Give me a prediction for your GAA and save percentage at the end of this season.
TT: I'm not giving you any numbers, but I think I'm safe to say they'll probably be a little higher than they are through the first seven games!
The rise of Thomas from journeyman to Vezina winner is one of 75 stories in James Duthie's new book "The Day I Almost Killed Two Gretzkys (And other off-the-wall stories about sports...and life)", is now available. You can order your autographed copy here in the TSN Shop.