By Joe McDonald
BOSTON – All Tim Thomas ever wanted was an opportunity.
The Boston Bruins gave it to him this season, and as a result of his solid play the organization signed him to a three-year deal late Friday night worth $3.3 million. The deal has been in the works for three weeks and got done without any snags, said general manager Mike O’Connell.
Thomas, 31, was summoned from Providence on Jan. 10, surprisingly cleared waivers and resurrected the Bruins’ playoff chances with his solid play. A well-traveled nine-year pro, he finally has some career stability.
“It’s been a Cinderella-story year I guess you could say,” said Thomas, who played for Birmingham in the ECHL in 1997-98. “Honestly, three months ago I thought I was going back to Finland, so it’s been a dream come true. I’m very grateful (Boston) gave me the opportunity to play here, and I wanted to stay here.”
At times this season, things have been difficult for Thomas. He began the season in Finland before the Bruins brought him back while Andrew Raycroft was holding out during training camp. After Raycroft signed a one-year deal, and when camp concluded, Thomas was assigned to Providence.
At the time he thought he made a huge mistake coming back to the states, but it has all worked out.
“It’s huge for my family,” he said. “My oldest daughter is in kindergarten, and now I know she’ll be going to school in the United States, and in Boston, for the next three years. That’s huge to me and my wife. My 82-year-old grandfather wants me to stay in the states so bad, he doesn’t understand Finland is OK, too. It’s big for my whole family.”
No question the Bruins got this deal done at the right time, because Thomas would have been an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and other teams would have courted his services. His loyalty to the organization that gave him his NHL shot did not go unnoticed.
“It’s not always all about the dough,” said O’Connell. “That’s hard to fathom sometimes, but he likes it here and he made the decision to stay here.”
Thomas has impressed ever since his days at the University of Vermont. In fact, current Bruins goaltending coach Bob Essensa and Thomas were competing for a job in Edmonton during the 1998-99 season.
“I’m not quite sure how,” said Essensa, “but I edged him out somehow. Maybe I was friends with the coach, or something. But, he impressed me then, and when Edmonton sent him down to Hamilton (AHL), I thought he was going to emerge as the go-to guy there.”
Thomas didn’t fare too well there and decided to head back to Finland, where he had enjoyed success the previous season during his rookie year. In 1999 he played for Detroit of the IHL, spent 2000-01 in Sweden, 2001-02 in Finland and joined the Bruins organization in 2002-03, playing mostly in Providence for the next two seasons.