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Ex-Bruins goalie Tim Thomas details mental health issues on day he's inducted into U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

Ex-Bruins goalie Tim Thomas details mental health issues on day he's inducted into U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

WASHINGTON — The tears rolled down Tim Thomas’ cheeks. 

Honored with induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, the former Boston Bruins goalie, a Stanley Cup champion, one of the greatest American players of all time, spoke of the hard end to his playing career and the brain damage he sustained playing the sport he loved. 

While playing for the Florida Panthers in 2013-14, his final season, Thomas sustained a concussion that December which left him debilitated. It was an injury “that changed my life,” Thomas said. 

Speaking publicly for the first time since retiring from hockey in 2014, the reclusive Thomas, a Michigan native who now lives in Idaho with his family, described a darkening spiral. He awoke the morning after his concussion and couldn’t decide what he wanted to eat, where he wanted to go. He couldn’t plan a schedule. Thomas survived by just following the team schedule put together by the Panthers - and later, the Dallas Stars after a trade. 

One year after retiring, Thomas found he couldn’t keep up with the sport on television or in person. He underwent a CereScan, which measures the flow of blood to the brain by using radioactive isotopes. Thomas claims the numbers showed two thirds of his brain was getting less than five percent of the necessary blood flow and the other third was getting about 50 percent.    

“I've struggled mightily with how do I process the experience that I've been through and rectify that with the love of the game that I had my whole life until I crashed, so to speak,” Thomas said. “That happened. I still haven't worked my whole way through that process.”

Thomas was a late bloomer. He played four years at the University of Vermont and after turning pro bounced around minor leagues in North America and played in Europe, too. He was 31 before he earned a roster spot with Boston and 33 before he was the unquestioned No. 1 goalie. 

But he went on a brilliant seven-year run, winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie in 2008-09 and 2010-11. That year he led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. He also played for 2010 U.S. Olympic Team in Vancouver, which won the silver medal. Hockey brought him immense joy and he was thrilled to be honored with induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.       

"I can see the positive sides of the whole hockey life and everything. It doesn't take away from that,” Thomas said. “I guess, I don't know where I stand completely on the game of hockey at the levels where people are injuring themselves to the levels that they actually are and my involvement in that.”

That will take some time. The pain is still raw. Thomas’ wife and children suffered because he was suffering with his mental health. He couldn’t communicate with anybody for a few years. He didn’t call his dad - or his old teammates, who were still stuck in that hockey life he had left behind. He just didn’t want to bother anybody. His love for the game was part of the heavy price paid.  

“There was a time period, yeah, where I hated the game,” Thomas said. “I didn't sit there and (say) I hate it. My rebound effect was like, this wasn't worth it. That's where I was then. Where I am today is past that. I ended up learning so many lessons out of the experience.”

But that doesn’t mean normal. Thomas isn’t sure what that word even means at this point. He’s endured ups and downs and only started to feel like his old self about two years ago. Oxygen therapy helped, Thomas said, and he believes plenty of special mineral water did, too. He wouldn’t have been able to make the trip to Washington to take part in this ceremony otherwise. Better doesn’t mean fully healed, though   

“I still can’t choose,” Thomas said. “I’m so much better, but I wake up every day and basically I have to reorder everything in my mind for the first couple hours of the day and then make a list and try to make some choices to get some stuff done, on which I have gotten to the level that I can.”

Thomas spoke haltingly to the gathered reporters. He paused, choked up multiple times and tried to keep his composure. The tears rolled down his cheeks anyway. On what was a monumental day honoring his accomplishments on the ice, this was as big a part of his story as any of that. After six years, he is finally able to talk and he hopes current hockey players can learn from his struggles with mental health.   

"I didn't want to talk about this. I didn't want to talk,” Thomas said “I didn't want to tell the world this stuff. Not untill I felt ready, and I didn't feel ready yet. But here I am.”

The book “Game Change” written by former Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden helped, Thomas said. That story details the struggles of longtime NHL defenseman Steve Montador, who died in 2015 at age 35 and who researchers later determined had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the neurological disease caused by repeated head injuries.

Learning about Montador’s issues made Thomas realize he wasn’t unique, he wasn’t alone. He’s channeled the competitive drive that allowed him to become an elite NHL goalie and channeled that into learning about mental health. 

On Tuesday, Thomas attended his first NHL game since leaving the sport in 2014. Ironically, his old Bruins were in Washington to play the Capitals and the 2019 inductees were honored before the game. Thomas had only seen former teammate Johnny Boychuk a few years back, but otherwise had fallen out of touch with most others.

Tuesday, Thomas got to catch up with Bruins staffers still with the organization and also ex-teammates Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Kreiji. Those five are still with Boston and they were on the ice with Thomas that memorable night in Vancouver eight years ago when they won the Stanley Cup together. 

Seeing them again was a blast, even if for a short time - a chance to immerse himself in a game that had given him so much but for a long time has been lost to him. 

"Being welcomed back into the arms of the hockey family has been great,” Thomas said. “It's reminded me of all the great people that I crossed paths with all throughout my career. It's been very impactful."

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In a sport in which silence is the norm, Braden Holtby continues to be a voice for change

In a sport in which silence is the norm, Braden Holtby continues to be a voice for change

The phrase "stick to sports" is one often uttered by angry fans who don't want politics to bleed into their past time, who want sports to remain an escape from every day life. No sport has taken those words to heart in recent years more so than hockey where players very rarely come out and discuss political or social topics. Braden Holtby, however, has been a notable exception.

With the country locked in political unrest after the senseless murder of George Floyd, Holtby tweeted out an impassioned statement on Wednesday with his thoughts.

"I don't think this time is a time to sugarcoat anything," Holtby said Friday in a video conference. "I think it's a time to look at ourselves in the mirror and really find how we can be better and how we can take responsibility for the past and learn from that to move forward."

Holtby has been an outspoken advocate for human rights, particularly those of the LGBTQ community, for several years. Many hockey players have been outspoken in the wake of the protests currently gripping the country representing a shocking shift from the norm of silence we typically see in hockey from such issues.

Holtby, however, has never been shy about giving his thoughts.

"I don’t know why it’s been kind of taboo to speak your mind or stand up for what you believe in," Holtby said. "Obviously, there’s always this divide from sports to social issues. You want to be educated, you want to make sure that you know what you’re talking about [and] you’re not just using your platform to try and be popular or something like that."

RELATED: HOLTBY, WILSON MAKE STRONG STATEMENTS IN SUPPORT OF BLACK LIVES MATTER

Quick reactions on social media are easy and often without substance. Holtby, however, who professed that he actually dislikes social media and does not like to use it all that much, stressed the need for everyone, including himself, to educate themselves on the important issues facing the country before and in addition to speaking out.

"It wasn't until I moved here that you really understand what racial injustice is in this country," Holtby said, who is originally from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan. "In Canada, we have indigenous rights and racism that way. I grew up around that, but this is different so I needed to educate myself and still need to. I believe how my parents did the right thing in teaching us in our situation. I learned a lot from them and Brandi as well and now we're just trying to take our knowledge we've learned in a different culture and try to teach our kids that way."

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But not everyone is open to hearing Holtby's thoughts on the matter.

When you speak out on these types of issues, you are bound to get plenty of backlash. Holtby has gotten such reaction from many who have decided that because he is a professional hockey player, he is for some reason no longer entitled to have a voice. There are also those who do not want to hear the opinion of a Canadian on America despite the fact that Holtby has been living in America since 2009.

"I think we all have our professions," Holtby said. "Everyone does. I don't know if any of us have -- unless your job is to fight racial inequalities or any sort of social issues that way, we're all just trying to be humans. And we just happen to have a following based on our job where people see us and it's easier to see us. It's crazy to think that that's an argument. We play hockey on the ice. We live our lives just as humans off of the ice and try to do our part that way. The second part about the Canadian thing is I've lived here for over 10 years now, so we call this home. This is my kids' home. My kids are both American. I feel like I'm fortunate to have been in both countries and be a part of both countries. I've said this a long (time): Canada follows America in a lot of ways. If you go from Canada to America, you don't see a ton of difference. The northern part of the states are very similar to Canada, and I believe when you try to make changes in one [it affects the other]."

But when the issues are important enough, it's easy to tune out the naysayers.

"I'm just trying to learn how I can do my part and my family's part to help people out," Holtby said. "I'm really hoping and I really believe that this is going to change the world in a lot of ways."

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Watch Alex Ovechkin’s son Sergei work on his slap shot

Watch Alex Ovechkin’s son Sergei work on his slap shot

The future looks bright for the Capitals with Alex Ovechkin’s son Sergei as an up-and-coming star.

Ovechkin’s wife Nastya captured an adorable moment on her Instagram story Thursday afternoon when Sergei practiced his shot and found the back of his miniature net on six consecutive attempts – just like his father would.


Nastya praised her 1-year-old, saying “Bravo!” after every goal scored, before he celebrated in classic Ovechkin fashion.

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While Ovi's eldest son has been occupied with his new role as a big brother as of late, he makes sure to leave plenty time to work on his slap shot and practice his celly, too, of course.

It looks like the young star is already on track to catch his father at 700 and make his debut in the 2038 NHL season.

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