Tim Thomas and Martin St. Louis were teammates and friends at the University of Vermont, and they both had to work harder than most to fulfill their dreams of playing in the NHL and raising the Stanley Cup over their heads. St. Louis was undrafted. He played for the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the Internationald Hockey League (IHL) before the Calgary Flames gave him a chance. In 2000, he signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning and helped them beat his old team in the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, winning the Hart Trophy and his first of two Art Ross Trophies that year. Tim Thomas was selected 217th overall by the Quebec Nordiques, but bounced around from the Birmingham Bulls of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), the Houston Aeros of the IHL, HIFK, a professional hockey team in Finland, and the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League (AHL), the Detroit Vipers of the IHL, AIK of the Swedish Hockey League, and Karpat of Oulu in Finland before finally finding a home with the Boston Bruins. Theirs are stories of hard work and never giving up on the dream, but now at the end of their careers, they are doing everything they can to undo the reputations they have built among hockey fans.
The 2011 playoffs were the high point of their NHL narrative. Thomas was in net for the Boston Bruins while St. Louis skated for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals. They were both on the back nine of their careers, but they were still two of the best players on the planet. In the end, Thomas was the one who advanced, helping the Bruins beat the Lightning 1-0 in the deciding seventh game in Boston. Timmy would go on to win the Stanley Cup and the Conn-Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. To say that Tim Thomas was awesome in the spring of 2011 would be the understatement of the century. He stole game after game and series after series for the Bruins, who won three Game 7s in the playoffs and beat four teams with better offensive firepower than they had. Timmy should have been one of the most beloved figures in the history of Boston sports, but that time at the top proved to be short lived.
Thomas decided to put right wing politics ahead of the best interests of the team in 2012 when he refused to go to the White House when the Bruins were invited. Apparently, the government was too big for Tim Thomas to want to meet the president, especially since the president was a Democrat. He didn’t think the government was too big when he accepted a scholarship to play hockey at a state school like the University of Vermont, and he didn’t have a problem when he was asked to represent his country as the backup goaltender for Team USA in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but he couldn’t go to the White House, despite being the only member of the 2011 Stanley Cup winning Bruins to have been born in the United States. That was a deal breaker.
The rest of that season, Thomas’ Bruins teammates had to answer questions in the media about Thomas’ political views, while he refused to comment on the polarizing remarks he was putting out for the public to see on his Facebook page. When his teammates made mistakes on the ice in front of him, he was quick to throw the blame on them, but the rest of the Bruins were going out of their way to defend his activity off the ice because he’s part of the team and that’s what good teammates do. This, combined with the Bruins’ first round playoff exit at the hands of the Washington Capitals in the spring of 2012, made him fall out of favor with a fan base that was worshiping the ice he skated on just months before. In the summer of 2012, he decided in his late 30s, to take a year off from the NHL. After a lockout cancelled the first half of the NHL regular season, Tuukka Rask, who had been Thomas’ backup in Boston since 2009, stepped up and took the Bruins back to the Stanley Cup Finals, ultimately falling in a hard fought six game series to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins and their fans have moved on. Thomas signed this year with the Florida Panthers, but was traded to the Dallas Stars at the deadline. Tim Thomas will always have a special place in the hearts of Bruins fans (myself included), but it could have been so much better if it didn’t end the way it did.
Marty St. Louis is still playing at a very high level despite being 38 years old. He can still score and set up the guys around him as well as anyone, and can still play bigger than his 5’8″, 180 lb body. In the lockout-shortened 2013 season, he won his second Art Ross Trophy, and with the departure of Vincent Lecavalier last summer, was named the team captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was also serving as the GM for Team Canada in the 2014 Olympics. Yzerman’s initial Olympic roster did not include St. Louis, because Canada has the deepest talent pool of any country in the world, and Yzerman wanted his aging captain to be sharp for the playoffs. Marty didn’t like that, and wanted out in Tampa because of it. Yzerman ended up resigning from his position with Team Canada the day after the Olympics over this, and he traded St. Louis to the New York Rangers for Ranger captain Ryan Callahan and draft picks. Tampa had a golden opportunity with Stephen Stamkos coming back from injury, but now they’re dealing with an unknown roster heading into the playoffs. The thing is, St. Louis ended up making the team after all. Because of Stamkos’ injury, Yzerman decided to send Marty to Sochi, and he came home with a Gold Medal. That’s all it took to ruin your working relationship with Steve Yzerman (who was one of the greatest leaders and winners the NHL has ever seen in his playing days, and NHL players should have the utmost respect for him)? What a joke. This is the kind of thing I expect from the NBA, not the NHL.
These two Vermont Catamounts were two of the most inspiring stories in hockey, but they’ve become less inspiring with age. It’s a sad thing to see.