Friday June 19th, 2009

On a night that celebrated individual achievements, a team stood out most.

Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin took home his second straight Hart Trophy and might've been the big star of the NHL Awards ceremony on Thursday evening, but the Boston Bruins shined brightest, with goalie Tim Thomas, defenseman Zdeno Chara and coach Claude Julien taking honors. Thomas and Manny Fernandez shared the Jennings Trophy, awarded to the team whose goaltenders had the lowest combined goals-against average.

Though they fell short in their quest for the Stanley Cup, these Bruins took home some decent consolation. "Only one out of 30 teams ended up getting that ultimate goal," Thomas said. "So, yeah, I prefer to look at it as the glass half full."

After winning his first Vezina Trophy, Thomas delivered an emotional speech, as the thoughts of his career began to settle in. "I've been more worried about getting my name on a roster than about winning the Vezina," he said at the podium, his voice choked up as he tried to hold it all together.

Even though he was a clear favorite for the award -- Thomas (36-11-7, 2.10 GAA, .933 save percentage) got all but eight first-place votes this year -- he's probably the unlikeliest of front-runners. Only four years ago, he didn't even know if he'd play in the NHL.

"I don't like to talk about it, but look how far I've come," Thomas said with genuine awe. "Four years ago, this it wasn't even worth dreaming about. I mean, if I was telling my friends four years ago that I would be winning the Vezina in a couple years, they'd be like, 'Yeah, okay.' You're having a hard time finding a job in Finland, you know?"

If Thomas told the league's general managers, who vote for the top goalie award every year, they probably wouldn't have believed him, either. After all, most of them took a pass on him years ago. He was drafted 217th overall by the Quebec Nordiques in 1994 and after electing to stay at the University of Vermont, ended up passing through the Edmonton Oilers organization as well as ECHL, IHL, Finland, Sweden, and the AHL before signing with Boston in September 2005 and landing their starting job in 2006.

"I had already made peace with the fact that I'd never get a chance in the NHL," he said. "Then Boston finally calls, and it's a tough decision to come back because I was in a great situation in Finland, and I came back thinking that I was going to be in the NHL for sure. Well, then I got sent down to the minors. That was devastating to me at the time."

Without a doubt, his path to the Vezina was unorthodox, just like his style. "He doesn't quit until he sees the puck in the net, and then he gets really ticked off," said head coach Julien. "When you're coaching this guy and you see what he does, what he brings every day, I couldn't be happier for him."

The emotions ran high for all of Boston's winners. When Julien accepted his first Jack Adams Award, he said it meant a great deal more because it came from presenter Pat Burns, his close friend and mentor. Chara earned his first Norris Trophy, beating out Detroit's Norris mainstay Nicklas Lidstrom and Washington's Mike Green. The 6' 9" defenseman reflected on his path to becoming the first Bruins blueliner to win the trophy since Raymond Bourque. Like Thomas, Chara recalls the doubters who used to tell him to try something else and the hardships that came along with the territory.

"I got cut from every possible team as a junior," Chara said. "It's always a great feeling to prove people wrong."

The fight has paid off for both Chara and Thomas, and the Bruins came out with high marks in Vegas. But still, it's not ultimately what they want to hold in the end.

Said Chara: "The individual awards are great, but I want to win the Stanley Cup."

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