Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Updated: January 25, 10:03 PM ET
Bruins talk Tim Thomas boycott
By Joe McDonald
WASHINGTON -- Tim Thomas did not start in goal for the Boston Bruins' 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, but it had nothing to do with his decision to boycott the team's celebratory trip to the White House Monday.
"I'm not going to regulate free speech," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said during the team's morning skate at the Verizon Center.
The Bruins' No. 1 goaltender will not be disciplined for skipping the meeting with President Barack Obama or for his political comments explaining his decision. Chiarelli said his best guess was that Thomas would not start, but coach Claude Julien would make the call.
Thomas wrote on his Facebook page Monday: "I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People."
He also wrote that he was exercising his "right as a Free Citizen" to decide not to attend the ceremony.
Tuukka Rask started and made 22 saves in Tuesday's loss.
"Tim has his beliefs and how Tim deals with them is what Tim is going to do," Chiarelli said. "I respect the fact that's the case."
Chiarelli also said that the organization has known about Thomas' plans for the last three months, and his statements Monday night were consistent with his conversations with Chiarelli.
"Tim is his own person and he's been that way for the six years that I've been around. That hasn't changed, and it won't change," Chiarelli said. "We won the Stanley Cup and we're playing well this year."
Bruins president Cam Neely admitted that he would have liked Thomas to go to the White House, but the goalie "felt very strongly about not going," so the team respected his wishes.
"I felt this was a team event and it would have been nice for him to be a part of it," Neely said on 98.5 the Sports Hub.
He said the team didn't make the event mandatory because "we didn't think it would be an issue."
Neely said he doesn't expect the controversy to adversely affect the Bruins' chemistry, pointing out with a laugh that not a lot of political discourse occurs in an NHL locker room.
"For the most Tim has kept his views to himself, from what I understand. If we didn't get invited to the White House no one would know his views on the federal government."
While management and players claim Thomas' right to free speech, not everyone agreed with his decision to boycott.
"I obviously disagree," said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference. "I have a different viewpoint. I think this is a wonderful country. It's done so much for us, so I think that's why we were so thrilled to go because we obviously have a different viewpoint.
"That being said, everyone has their own point of view and that's the country as well, right? Just because you disagree with or have a different viewpoint with somebody, it's not our job to look down and be harsh toward that person. It's their view, their choice. You can completely disagree with it, but in this country you have to respect it."
Ference has a strong connection with a group of local Army Rangers in Boston and he always participates as much as he can in a variety of military engagements. So having a chance to visit the president of the free world was a no-brainer.
"We were all excited to go and obviously looked forward to an honor like that," Ference said. "It's something that's a rare opportunity. All of us made our own decision to go because it's a great thing. It was his decision and obviously he believes strongly in things, so be it. It's not for us to really delve into because it's his business."
Thomas, along with defenseman Steven Kampfer, were the only two Americans on the Cup roster last spring.
"It's Timmy's decision," Kampfer said. "It's his beliefs. It's his right to do what he wants. We all had a great time going there and seeing the White House. For myself, it was a dream come true because I studied it in school. I was a political science major, so to get to go to the White House and shake the president's hand was awesome. It's something I'll never forget."
Julien made it a point to focus on Tuesday's game against the Capitals, saying it's his job to coach the Bruins and he's not about to criticize or support any political decision by one of his players.
"What we're worried about right now is our hockey team and what's on the agenda tonight," Julien said. "Our group is all mature enough to look past that and obviously our group was very proud and honored and privileged to have gone to the White House. That's our view and we don't mix politics with hockey. In this dressing room, our job is to win hockey games as a team and that's what we are. We're going to continue to do that.
"It's unfortunate what happened yesterday," added Julien. "It's the reality of the world. I mentioned the word 'team' and we're thinking as a team right now."
Bruins forward Milan Lucic said he's not into politics and would also rather focus on hockey and only wants Thomas to stop the puck.
"I don't think it really matters what I think about it," Lucic said. "I still enjoyed the day and took part of the opportunity. I know for the guys who were there had a lot of fun. It's something, for me personally, will remember for the rest of my life.
"Clearly he has strong opinions. It's a free world and he can do whatever he wants. Still believe he's going to play the way he always plays. As long as he stops pucks, that's him doing his job."
The few players who spoke about Thomas' decision don't believe it will be a distraction. The majority of this team has been together for a few years and the players know each other pretty well.
"We're the same people," Ference said. "It's not like the locker room all of a sudden changed one day. It's the same personnel and the same personalities. We're all practically married to each other. It's not like there are too many secrets on viewpoints and personalities. Maybe it's interesting for everybody else to read on the outside. For us it's just another day. It's the same family we've had for the last few years."
The Bruins' organization, led by Neely, Chiarelli and Julien believe strongly in the team-first concept. Julien is all about team chemistry and team bonding. The coach also believes this situation will not change the dynamic on or off the ice.
"My answer is pretty clear. We were honored and we went," Julien said. "Everybody makes their decisions and he chose not to come. So whether we support him, or don't support him, it has nothing to do with hockey. We are a team and we'll continue to be a team."
One team member will not be on the ice Tuesday.
Forward Nathan Horton did not participate in the team's morning skate because he's still feeling the effects of a mild concussion he suffered during Sunday's game in Philadelphia.
"He's doing as good as he can for a guy with a mild concussion," Julien said. "He didn't skate today and he's still suffering from mild headaches. He's day to day and hopefully by the end of this five-day break, hopefully we'll have the news we want to hear."
The Bruins won't have to face Alex Ovechkin Tuesday. The Capitals star was suspended three games Monday for a charging incident in which he launched himself to hit Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek during Sunday's 4-3 overtime loss.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.