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WASHINGTON -- Before most hockey games, it's tough to find many players who stand completely still during the national anthem.
Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas never moves. He stands as still as the Statue of Liberty, with his focus directly on the American flag that hangs from the rafters in every NHL arena. There's no denying Thomas' patriotism. He represented Team USA as an Olympian and has called it one of his most memorable moments of his career.
But when the president of the United States invites you and all your teammates to the White House to honor your Stanley Cup championship, you go and represent the team.
On Monday, Thomas instead chose to represent himself.
The reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe winner skipped the White House ceremony, deciding to use a special moment for the organization, the team and its fans to voice his displeasure with the U.S. government.
Thomas posted a message on his Facebook page on Monday night explaining his decision.
"I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People," the message read. "This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.
"Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.
"This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT"
In earlier posts on his Facebook page, Thomas writes about the Bruins' recent shootout victory in Philadelphia on Sunday, calling it "a big TEAM" win, and added his congrats to the New England Patriots on their "big TEAM" win in the AFC Championship Game.
That sentiment was missing in Thomas's decision not to go to the White House.
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said Thomas would not be suspended for not attending the team function.
The Bruins' organization has prided itself, especially under team president Cam Neely, Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien, in being a true team. During the Cup run last spring, management, coaches and players alike spoke at length about the team's chemistry.
So it was odd that Thomas chose this stage to make a statement by not attending the White House visit with the rest of his teammates, especially given the fact that he is one of only two Americans on the Cup-winning team.
|All of the Bruins -- except their Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender -- enjoyed being honored by President Obama at the White House.|
Julien is all about team-building exercises. During every training camp, he takes the team on a weekend trip. In fact, any chance he gets to create a team-bonding situation Julien jumps at the chance, as he did during the first round of the playoffs last season when the Bruins spent a couple of days in Lake Placid, N.Y., between Games 3 and 4 in Montreal.
Monday at the White House was another one of those opportunities.
"I think our whole team is ecstatic about what this day did for us," Julien said. "You talk about team-bonding situations, this is certainly one of them."
From the time the players arrived until the time they left, everyone seemed thrilled about this opportunity. There's no way any player on this team will publically disagree with Thomas' decision, but this one could come back to kick him between his goalie pads.
With the exception of Thomas and Michael Ryder (who plays for the Dallas Stars and couldn't make it), everyone on the 2011 Cup roster attended the event, including Mark Recchi and Shane Hnidy, who are both retired, and Tomas Kaberle, who now plays for the Montreal Canadiens.
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was informed Monday morning that Thomas would not be attending the event.
"Honestly, I don't have any thoughts about it," Chara said. "That's what he decided to do and the rest of it is up to him."
Thomas' decision will no doubt spark a massive debate. He's a fan favorite. He can be considered the greatest goalie in franchise history. Earlier in his career when he played overseas, he was considered a hockey god in Finland for all his success there.
His absence, however, will have a lasting effect on his boy-next-door image.
"Everybody has their own opinions and political beliefs and he chose not to join us," Bruins team president Cam Neely said. "We certainly would have liked to have him come and join us, but that's his choice. Obviously, it's not a choice that most of the guys, all the guys came except for Tim. That's his decision and his choice."
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli spoke with Thomas to no avail.
"I don't have a real reason right now," Chiarelli said Monday morning. "He chose not to show up. I believe he's doing a statement later. That's all I can tell you right now."
During his speech, President Obama spoke glowingly about Thomas and his performance during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"This Stanley Cup was won by defense as much as by offense," Obama said. "Tim Thomas posted two shutouts in the Stanley Cup finals and set an all-time record for saves in the postseason, and he also earned the honor being only the second American ever to be recognized as the Stanley Cup playoffs MVP."
Thomas' absence was uncalled for. The president has more important things to worry about with Tuesday's State of the Union address.
But it's going to be interesting to see what this does to the State of the Bruins.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.