By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Tim Thomas authored one of the best chapters in the entire 95-year history of the Boston Bruins. He also navigated one of the most curious exits.
The Conn Smythe and Vezina-winning netminder spent a decade in the Bruins organization, providing the foundation to end a 39-year Stanley Cup drought for the franchise. Yet after a skipped White House visit, some tense scrums with reporters, and an abrupt departure from the NHL, Thomas has never gotten the post-career life of glory that most great Bruins get to enjoy.
While most of us have largely assumed that’s been a result of Thomas’ own decisions, the retired netminder shared this week that his post-career distance from Boston has nothing to do with any lingering sour feelings toward the organization or the city. Instead, Thomas admitted that he’s been dealing with his own struggles with anxiety.
“With the state of my nervous system since I retired, I wouldn’t be able to hardly handle the energy of the crowd in Boston,” Thomas told reporters on a conference call, per the AP. “So it isn’t as simple as it may seem. Having said that, you never know what the future may hold. I’m just taking life as it goes.”
Back in June, an internet rumor spread about Thomas potentially being in Boston to serve as the team’s banner captain prior to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Blues. Thomas, though, was not in the building for the game, and his comments this week (when he made rare public comments after being announced as a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee) provided some important light on why he has not been heard from much since retiring in 2014.
This week’s comments also brought about the discovery of a YouTube video from 2017, in which Thomas detailed his struggles to overcome a concussion suffered in his final NHL season “which affected me greatly.”
“I spent a lifetime playing sports — football, baseball, hockey, any neighborhood game you could imagine. And from a lifetime of sports and from a high level career in hockey, I accumulated a lot of brain damage over the course of that — unbeknownst to myself,” Thomas said in the video, which was made to promote a specific type of treatment. “I didn’t understand it until it finally caught up with me a couple of years ago, so I’ve been searching for help for almost three years now. I found a lot of things that have helped along the way — some things more than others.
“I’ve recovered a lot since my start, but there’s still some things that I can feel missing, like a little bit of my balance off, and my hand-eye [coordination]. I was a highly trained athlete that trained myself until I was 40, so I’m used to the high level of reflexes and stuff like that,” Thomas said in the 2017 video.
This week, after letting it slip that his daughter will be starting an internship with the Bruins this season, Thomas said the idea of just traveling to Boston seems like a taxing endeavor for him.
“I live a long ways away from Boston, and it’s not that fun for me to travel anymore,” Thomas said, per the AP. “It isn’t anything to do with the Boston Bruins or the Boston fans, especially. My goodness, they loved the crap out of me when I was there to the point where it was hard to handle.”
The public comments from the notably private Thomas certainly came as a bit of a surprise to many. Thomas has become the butt of many jokes from fans and media who deemed Thomas to simply be “weird” or “selfish” or a “recluse living in a bunker.” His comments this week — taken in concert with Rob Gronkowski’s emotional admission a week earlier — should serve as a reminder that we often don’t know the types of battles many people are quietly going through away from the spotlight of the rink or field or court. That’s not to say that every decision Thomas made during his playing career was perfect, but it is merely worth noting that there are often some very real, very human issues that never see the light of day.
“Everybody probably knows nowadays I don’t actually have all that much to say, at least publicly,” Thomas also said this week. “Obviously, I’ve decided to keep what I’ve been doing with my life and learning to myself at this point, for sure. And probably forever.”
If the reaction to the internet rumor in June was any indication, Bruins fans would be eager and excited to shower Thomas with some post-career praise inside a raucous TD Garden. That, however, does not appear to be an appealing scenario for Thomas to encounter.
So for now and the foreseeable future, Thomas’ distance from Boston will remain. At least there is now more of an understanding as to the reason behind it.