Player of the Month
The European Hockey.Net European Player of the Month is awarded to the player with the most oustanding performance over the course of the month
Nominations are collected at the end of each month, then a vote by the site's admin team decides the winner.
December 2004 - Tim Thomas
The winner for December 2004 is Tim Thomas of Jokerit in Finnish SM-Liiga.
Taking the opportunity
American Tim Thomas has taken his career step by step in order to reach his goals. He realised planning a career is near impossible and he knew he would have to take the opportunities that became available to find out would what happen next. So far this season Thomas is taking the opportunity to play in Helsinki again with both hands. It even earned him the Eh.N Player of the Month award.
Tim Thomas, Eh.N Player of the Month December 2004.
Thomas handed himself and his team an early Christmas present in December. He came up big for Jokerit Helsinki. He won all 6 games in which he was dressed and allowed just 7 goals in this span. Furthermore, Thomas posted 2 shutouts and improved his save percentage to 95,8%.
Numbers impressive enough to be awarded the Eh.N December Player of the Month award. ‘There's obviously quite a few talented players to choose from. Especially this year with the lockout. To be the one chosen from hundreds of players is quite an honour,’ Thomas says.
Nevertheless the goaltender remains modest. ‘Most of the credit of course must go to my team. We've really came together as the season has advanced, and have been playing solid in all facets of the game. It was important to myself and the team to finish up strong going into the Christmas break.’ If not for the league table, Thomas can think of another reason for posting good results in December. ‘If anything so that maybe our practices would be a little easier over the break,’ he joked.
Tim Thomas is well aware of the tricks of the trade. Throughout his career he has bagged his share of experience and has travelled a lot. "I've had a road with stops in different places, but I think, like a lot of people, it doesn't matter how you get there, you just have to find a way," he told bostonbruins.com in 2003.
He started travelling early already.
Playing for the University of Vermont, he made his debut at the World Championships for the national team as a 21-year old. His next appearance would follow a year later. Nevertheless the 9th round Quebec Nordiques draft pick felt he had to move in order to pick up his career. Stuck in the minor league system he mainly functioned as a back-up goaltender. So he moved to Europe.
‘My goal throughout my career of course has always been to play in the NHL. It's the bar that I think 99% of hockey players shoot for, even if they won't admit it,’ Thomas knows. ‘I originally chose to come to Europe because I thought if I came here and played well it would help me advance towards that goal.’
He decided to move to Finland where he would defend the colours of HIFK Helsinki. A choice he didn’t regret. The Michigan-born goaltender started in 18 of the 22 remaining games and made a huge impression posting a 1.62 GAA-record along with .947 save percentage. He followed it up with an even more impressive playoff performance. Enough for him to take another gamble. But his spell with the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs only turned out to be partly successful. So when HIFK contacted him again to fill in for the remainder of the season, Thomas’ bags were quickly packed.
He carried the team through the remainder of the season and 11 playoff games and was rewarded for his good performance with a starting job for team USA at the 1999 World Championships.
He again tried to pursue his dream in North America, but once more it wasn’t an all too satisfying experience for Thomas, who played 36 games for the Detroit Vipers. Despite not so impressive numbers there were quite a few European teams who hadn’t forgotten about Thomas’ performances in Helsinki. Swedish side AIK won the bid for his signature. He had a decent regular season but could not steal any games for his teams come playoff time.
Then that off-season, Finland knocked on his door again. And for the third time in his career he made the move. However this time he wouldn’t land a job in capital Helsinki, but with Kärpät Oulu.
As time ran out on his NHL dream he realised his chances of landing an NHL-job were slim. He decided to take the opportunity once more and signed for the Boston Bruins organisation during the summer of 2002. Things looked like a déja-vu for Thomas as he couldn’t get out of the team’s minor affiliate; the Providence Bruins. But at the end of the season Tim Thomas finally got what he worked for all his life: A game amongst the world’s elite!
"It's incredible," said Thomas for bostonbruins.com. "If you were to tell me this a month ago, I would have said that there was no chance that I would be here with the team going into the NHL playoffs. It just goes to show you how fast things can change.’
He only had a short spell with the Bruins, but Thomas didn’t feel he lacks NHL qualities. ‘I think it has been more a question of timing and opportunity. In four games in the NHL I have 3 wins and 1 loss. I think I made the most of the opportunities I did have.’ Thomas knew the path towards the NHL wouldn’t be paved for him. ‘Not being a high draft pick or having a one way contract makes it more difficult. Basically I needed to be in an organization where a long term injury occured to another goalie to get my chance. It never happened.’
After an impressive full season in the AHL with Providence he decided to switch to Europe again as his NHL chances weren’t looking too good. And what would be a better place to move to then the city where it all started. He signed with Jokerit Helsinki, who play in the reknowned Hartwall-Arena.
His move to city-rivals Jokerit was a tough blow for the die hard HIFK fans. Thomas could understand their feelings. ‘It was a little awkward playing for the cross town rival for a while. But I think that HIFK fans realize that in the life of a hockey player one doesn't always get to play for the same team.’ But there were also other circumstances that played a role. ‘HIFK had two goalies under contract, and Jokerit only had one. I still love the HIFK fans but I'm happy at Jokerit and I couldn't ask any more from way the fans and organization have treated me,’ Thomas admits.
Tim Thomas is happy in Finland. He has built up a special relationship with the country during his spells there. But what were his reasons to choose for Finland in the first place?
‘The main reason is opportunity. If you are North American and want to be scouted to take a step back towards the NHL, Sweden and Finland are the best places to be, in my opinion. If you look at history, it happens more in Finland I think than anywhere else in Europe. For example, Brian Rafalski, Ray Giroux, and myself, to name a few. "
Other then that Thomas also has some off-ice reasons to prefer Finland over other established European leagues.
‘Another reason is that I was familiar with Scandinavia before my first year with HIFK. I came to Finland three times with USA hockey for the Tampere Cup while I was in college so I knew what to expect.’
But his main reason to opt for Finland dates back from way back in his high school. ‘One of the most important reason is friends. My best friend in high school was a Finnish foreign exchange student. Joni Ahola. I saw him at all the Tampere Cup’s so it was a little easier to stay in touch. He introduced me to a few of his friends, and they welcomed me into there circle of friends. I am still friends with Joni, and to this day some of my best friends are Finns.’
And Tim Thomas is a welcome figure to have around in the locker room. He has got a refreshing smile and it surely has its effect on his team mates. He didn’t get the nick name ‘smiley’ for no reason obviously.
Of course he follows all the current developments regarding the NHL lock-out closely. Thomas finds it hard to tell who is right and who is wrong. ‘I can see the points of both sides. But I'd have to lean towards the players. I think they realize that some concessions need to be made. But a hard salary cap? That's not a free market system. The NHL is played in the USA and Canada, not Cuba, Thomas knows.’
But his NHL dreams are not so vivid anymore as they used to be. He has made his way into the NHL and at the moment his age works against him. Thomas realises this when he’s asked about his future plans.
‘I don't know what will happen for me in the future. I'll keep following the path that I think affords me the best opportunity. As of right now there is no NHL to aspire to, so my choices will be made more on happiness for my family and quality of life, and right now that has taken me to Finland.’
Asked what the main differences for a goalie are between the European game and the North American game Thomas mentions that the angles are different and the plays aer setup different, but as a whole it’s not too different. ‘It seems faster in some ways, but slower in others. It's funny, but from my experience, the NHL is more like European hockey than the AHL. It probably has something to do with the impact of all the European players. But all in all the job of the goalie is the same. Stop the puck.‘
And stopping pucks means winning championships. And that’s the next aim for now Tim Thomas and Jokerit. The stellar December performance continued in January . So far this month Thomas has been very impressive and has posted 6 shutouts already along with 10 wins from 11 games and could well be a candidate for the Eh.N Player of the Month award for January if he keeps up his current form.
- March 2007 - Petr Sykora
- February 2007 - Bernd Brückler
- January 2007 - Martin Prochazka
- December 2006 - Martin Kariya
- November 2006 - Pavel Brendl
- October 2006 - Kimmo Rintanen
- September 2006 - Aleksei Morozov
- May 2006 - Kenny Jönsson
- April 2006 - Aleksei Morozov
- March 2006 - Reto von Arx
- February 2006 - Nicklas Lidström
- January 2006 - Patrick Yetman
- December 2005 - Miroslav Hala
- November 2005 - Vasily Koshechkin
- October 2005 - Tony Salmelainen
- September 2005 - Sergei Zinoviev
- May 2005 - Jaromir Jagr
- April 2005 - Henrik Lundqvist
- March 2005 - Henrik Lundqvist
- February 2005 - Marian Gaborik
- January 2005 - Jaromir Jagr
- December 2004 - Tim Thomas
- November 2004 - Marian Hossa
- October 2004 - Jukka Voutilainen
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