The second time around at the NHL all-star game will be a little more satisfying for Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas.
The 34-year-old was the winning goalie in the Eastern Conference's victory at last year's all-star game in Atlanta, when he went in as a replacement for another who was injured, but this time, he is part of the NHL's best goaltending tandem with Manny Fernandez and was an obvious selection for the game Jan. 25 in Montreal.
"This one is nice because I was picked outright," Thomas said Monday on a conference call. "And you can go there and you're the team everyone's chasing this year, it definitely gives you some inner confidence."
Thomas has a sparkling 17-4-3 record this season with a 2.08 goals-against average and .933 save percentage while sharing the Boston net with Fernandez, who has done almost as well with a 14-3-1 record, a 2.07 average and a .928 save percentage.
It is tough to match those numbers in an all-star game, where players skate at half speed and defence is largely ignored. As well, Thomas will have to face all-star shooters like Jarome Iginla, Ryan Getzlaf and Pavel Datsyuk.
"You've got to keep in mind that they're going to score," said Thomas. "They're the best scorers in the world.
"Actually, there are some of the best defencemen in the world too, but they're probably not going to be blocking as many shots and stuff like that. But having been there and played in the third period, I got into the tight part of the game, so I actually was fortunate enough to have better defence than the other goalies."
Thomas will be a little less star-struck this time around, as well.
"Last year, I had a great time, but I was a little nervous being on that stage," he said. "This year I'll probably enjoy it more because I'll be able to relax and soak it in."
Thomas was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in 1994, but played nearly a decade in the minor leagues and in Sweden and Finland. He finally got into an NHL game in the 2002-03 season with Boston and didn't become a starter until 2006-07.
"It isn't like I appeared out of nowhere," he said. "I was a two-time all-American in collage.
"I won a championship in Finland at age 23. I've had a really good record in the AHL. During the lockout year in Finland, with at least five other NHL goalies in the league, I was the No. 1 goalie in the league with 15 shutouts. So, in my mind, it isn't like in the last couple of years I'm playing better than I have in my whole career. I'm just continuing.
"It's not like I went from a guy who couldn't play street hockey to playing in the NHL, that's my point."
Now, all dreams are possible, including one that sees him playing goal for the United States at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
"It would be awesome," said the native of Flint, Mich., who has played in five world championships. "My dream since I was five years old wasn't to play in the NHL, it was to play in the Olympics.
"The 1980 Olympics (won by the U.S. after the Miracle On Ice victory over the Soviet Union) were right when I was five. I turned six right afterwards, so it made a huge impression on me. Jim Craig is the reason I decided to play goalie, or it certainly cemented the fact that I wanted to play goalie.
"It would be huge honour. I hope I get the chance."
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