Two years ago, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas traveled to Maine as a member of Team USA when it faced Sweden in an exhibition before the hockey world championships.

Thomas did not dress for the game, which came six days after the conclusion of the Bruins’ 2007-08 season. But while sitting in the stands at the Cumberland County Civic Center, he saw the passion the locals had for the Bruins, as well as the area’s keen interest in hockey.

Then he considered his own interest in promoting and cultivating the game in the Northeast.

“New England used to be a big strength for hockey in North America,” Thomas said. “If you look at the 1980 Olympic team, half of the players were from the Boston area, and if you look at this year’s Olympic team, a lot of those players are from Minnesota or Michigan, where I’m from.”

Thomas has helped develop and run the Tim Thomas Hockey Camps, held for the past two years in Vermont and Massachusetts. This year, Falmouth’s Family Ice Center will host one of the six sessions from July 26-30.

Pavel Navrat, Thomas’ former teammate and roommate at the University of Vermont, teamed with Thomas and former Catamounts defenseman Martin Wilde to spearhead the camp, which aims to create a foundation for a balanced, more well-rounded hockey player. The camps include skaters and goalies from ages 6 to 17 and have age-specific and skill-specific sessions.

“We don’t say that this is a stickhandling camp,” said Navrat, who works with the Portland-based organization, Tim Thomas Hockey. “We don’t say that we’re a shooting camp. We do it all.

“We grew the camp so much in Vermont and the feedback we got was phenomenal. I live in Maine and I said, ‘let’s try this here.’ Now, I’m trying to get this off the ground.”

Thomas, 36, has a personal interest in player development. He explained that the coaching he received at age 23 is the same coaching goalies now begin learning at age 8.

“Having taken the long road to the NHL and not getting equal instruction until I was at an older age, I realized the benefits of good, quality teaching,” Thomas said. “That was part of the inspiration behind it.

“I had to learn a lot of things on my own, a lot of things on the fly at an older age. So I looked at this as an opportunity to be able to help kids learn these things at a younger age.”

Thomas doesn’t ask the camp participants to subscribe to a hard and fast goalie style.

“I condone the flexibility in the style,” Thomas said. “Some camps will say, ‘this is how you do it.’ I teach technique as a tool you can use instead of saying, ‘this is what you have to use.’ Everybody has their own style and they can take components from other styles.”

Navrat also falls back on personal experience in helping design the camp. Growing up in Prague, Czech Republic, Navrat remembers that for each game he played, there were five days of practice leading up to it. He has seen 10-year-olds play 65 games a year and practice only once a week, a format he likens to an NHL schedule and not one conducive to a younger player’s development.

“Everybody’s going to have their own strengths and weaknesses and if you can work on all aspects, you’ll find those out,” Thomas said. “It’s really to make a more well-rounded hockey player. Everything we do, there’s a purpose behind it.”

Thomas said it wasn’t just luck that helped him embark on his professional career. It was also about seizing opportunities and continuously building upon the foundation of a strong work ethic. So it was inherent for him to help promote the sport.

“It’s built in me a desire to see hockey in the United States thrive and prosper,” Thomas said. “What better way to help it thrive and prosper than to run a quality hockey camp to help players get better?”

 

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

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