Years ago I knew a real jerk. He was my boss. He had discovered that since he could fire those working for him that he could get away with being abusive and intimidating. One day the Olympics were starting and he walked into the lunch room and loudly and disdainfully announced that he didn't get why anyone cared about the Olympics. For once I had an answer for him. I told him that people watched the Olympics because even though the athletes were put under enormous pressure the champions responded by digging deep down and somehow doing their very best; to witness this triumph of the human spirit was why we watched. I was thankful when a co-worker backed me up by saying, "that's something that needs to be said," because it was such a cliche. Taken aback, he slinked out of the room.
So the question I am posing is, why watch hockey? Why be a fan? For me the answer is the same as for the Olympics. I enjoy seeing the team as a whole and the players individually overcome adversity. There's nothing sweeter than seeing someone triumph even though the whole world seemed to think they couldn't cut it.
When a hockey player dons that storied and sacred spoked-B and earns our respect both on and off the ice by doing his very best he earns my loyalty. Tim Thomas is one of those players. He earned my loyalty years ago when fans kept saying he wasn't a true No. 1 yet he played better than any goaltender I had seen in years. He proved worthy of my loyalty when the media and many fans smugly claimed that he'd been replaced by Manny Fernendez--a proven No 1. goaltender--yet went on to not only win the starting job but the Vezina too.
So it was painful to me to see people wearing "It's Tukka Time" T-shirts at Bruins games last season and lauding Rask as if he was somehow born into the starting goaltender position, like royalty. And it was painful to me to read about fans wanting to trade Thomas for cap space over the summer. Hell, some still are. Even with the best start for a Bruins goaltender in 73 years some fans claim he's being played just so the front office can show him off to set up a trade. These people know no shame and even less about loyalty.
So lets get some things straight. Rask has not yet earned either the starting job or our loyalty--not in the way Tim Thomas has. The truth is that the team played so inconsistently for the first half of last season they made both goaltenders look bad. When they finally got their act together Timmy responded with a shutout. But his next game ended with his being pulled off the ice and after that Rask played the bulk of the season. The media anointed Rask as having stolen the starting job from Thomas. But we now know what really happened. Timmy was injured in that game and that injury required surgery over the summer before he could recover. Rask didn't steal the starting job--he defaulted into it. And sure, Rask played well right up to the middle of the second round of the playoffs. But make no mistake: he was seldom "great."
Over the last fifteen years we have seen so many goaltenders come and go. Some were hailed as the next great goalie who would lead us to a cup yet fell flat on their faces. Many people believed that the Bruins lacked the necessary goaltending to go far into the playoffs. Bill Ranford didn't have what it took and only lasted two seasons. Byron Dafoe looked like a future great but never really left his mark, either in the playoffs or the record books. Does anyone even remember Jeff Hackett? And what about the chosen one--Andrew Raycroft--the celebrated goaltender of the future who won the Calder as the best rookie in the NHL? After the lockout he was never able to get back into form. Now he bounces around the league as a journeyman backup. So forgive me if I expect Rask to actually earn his lauded position as the Bruins "goaltender of the future."
Even going back further in time the Bruins have had few great goaltenders. In truth even Gerry Cheevers, one of my all-time favorite Bruins, wasn't the greatest goaltender in his time. He had a hell of a team in front of him and don't let anyone tell you that doesn't matter.
The Vezina trophy is awarded to the best goaltender in the NHL. Tim Thomas won it for the '08/'09 season. You have to go back to Pete Peeters in '82/'83 to find the last time a Bruin won it and Peeters, like Timmy, was the real deal. Before that you have to go all the way back to the greatest Bruins goaltender, Frank Brimsek, in '38/'39.
Stats are even more telling. No Bruins goaltender has led the league in save percentage since they started keeping the statistic in the 1950's--except for Tim Thomas.
Tim Thomas is the real deal people. It's not Tukka Time yet and history tells us that day may never come. Once again the Thomas-doubters have written him off and once again Timmy has risen to the occasion. This is Timmy Time and we should enjoy it because this is as special as it gets. This is why we watch.