For a wide variety of reasons, I've always liked Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas. It wasn't just that he was a fellow goalie who shared a first name with me, it was his entire story.
First off, he was an American at a position recently dominated by butterflying French-Canadians and Finns. Second, it took incredible determination for him to make it to the NHL. After playing four years at the University of Vermont, he was drafted 218th by the Quebec Nordiques in 1994.
(To put into perspective what a long shot that made him, consider that there isn't even a 218th draft pick anymore - the NHL only drafts seven rounds, and 210 players - and the Nordiques don't exist anymore.)
Unable to find an NHL job, Thomas carried his pads whereever the hockey winds took him. Over the next several years he played in Birmingham and Houston. He went to Finland, and won the Finnish Elite League championship for HIFK. Then it was the American Hockey League, and the Hamilton Bulldogs. Then back to Finland, and another stint with HIFK. Then back to America, and the Detroit Vipers of the International League. Then back to Europe, and a year with AIK of the Swedish League, before returning to the Finnish League with Karpat-Oulu.
At that point, most goalies would find it pretty easy to abandon the dream, but the Bruins acquired his rights, and he came back to play for their minor-league team in Providence. Finally, at the age of 28, he made his NHL debut and won three of four games for the Bruins.
But he still wasn't in the big league to stay. He played 43 games in Providence the next year, and when the lockout happened in 2003, he went back to Europe and played another year in Finland, this time for Jokerit.
It would be the 2006-07 season before Thomas earned the Bruins' starting goalie spot, and since then he's won two Vezina trophies, and was MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at age 37, leading the Bruins last spring to their seven-game triumph over Satan's Team.
How can you not love that story?
And today it got better.
As I said, he's long been one of my favorite players, and I had no idea about his politics, or whether he even had political convictions. But today was the Bruins' chance to go to the White House and celebrate their Stanley Cup win with the President. Every championship team gets the photo op - stand in the Rose Garden, give the President a jersey, smile for the camera. It's a nice, harmless tradition.
Except today, Thomas said "No, thanks." Turns out that he's a conservative guy through and through. I should have been tipped off by the "In God We Trust" painted on his mask, along with the Gadsden flag ("Don't tread on me"), but I always chalked it up to simply a Boston/history thing.
Which turns out not to be the case. He believes in conservative causes, and he wasn't going to lend his MVP presence to a photo op with a president he clearly disagrees with. It was a gutsy call that likely won't win him any fans in Massachusetts, but a guy that I already admired a great deal earned a little bit more of my admiration today.