WASHINGTON, D.C. – Former Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas made his first public appearance since walking away from hockey in 2014, and fought back tears as he described the brain damage he has endured after sustaining a concussion in his final NHL season.
“I couldn’t communicate with anybody for a few years,” Thomas told reporters on Thursday, ahead of his induction to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. “I didn’t call my dad. I didn’t talk to anybody. There was a time period, yeah, where I hated the game, so to speak. I didn’t sit there and [say] I hate it. My rebound effect was like, this wasn’t worth it.”
After a decade playing in the minors and Europe, Thomas broke into the NHL as a full-time goaltender in 2005-06 as a 31-year-old. In 2011, Thomas led the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup since 1972. At age 37, Thomas became the oldest winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, punctuated by shutting out the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7.
Thomas took a season off in 2012-13 to focus on “family, friends, and faith,” he wrote in a post on his since-deleted Facebook page. He returned for 2013-14, splitting 48 games between the Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars before stepping away for good.
Thomas said that in a December 2013 game with the Panthers, he sustained a concussion “that changed my life.”
“I woke up the next morning after it and I couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat, where I wanted to go,” Thomas said. “I couldn’t plan a schedule. I survived following the team schedule the rest of the year and just made it through that season.”
Thomas finished that season, and played in the World Championships that spring, too.
“On the ice, I was able to be like 97 percent maybe, 95 percent of what I was before, but off the ice, like I said, 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.”
Thomas said it was difficult to face reporters on Thursday. The Michigan native is now living in Idaho with his family.
“I didn’t want to talk about this,” he said. “I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to tell the world this stuff. Not till I felt ready, and I didn’t feel ready yet. But here I am.”
Thomas said he has relied on support from his wife, kids and brother through the difficult time. Thomas also cited reading Ken Dryden’s book “Game Change,” about Steve Montador, a former NHL player who was diagnosed with CTE after his death.
“It actually helped my family understanding what was going on,” Thomas said of the book. “That, to me, was a step forward as far as understanding that other people are going through the same deal. I just thought I was unique. When you’re going through it, you just can’t understand.”
Thomas has tried several experimental treatments which he says have helped with his brain function, including oxygen therapy.
He also cited “really, really good water with ionic minerals” as part of his healing. “There’s a lot about water that an average person wouldn’t think about,” Thomas said.
Thomas dropped the puck for the Bruins-Capitals game on Wednesday night, and said it was the first NHL game he had attended since retiring.
“I couldn’t follow the game anymore,” Thomas said. “My brain wasn’t functioning well enough to be able to keep up with the game, so I sat out in the woods for a few years. I didn’t watch much hockey. There’s not much TV out there.”
Thomas said being at the arena was “surprisingly comfortable.” He “had a blast” seeing the trainers, as well as visiting Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci for the first time sine he walked away.
Thomas was inducted in a five-person class to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame that included NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, longtime NHL forward Brian Gionta, women’s star Krissy Wendall, and Neal Henderson, the co-founder of the oldest minority hockey club in North America.
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