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Ex-Bruins goalie Tim Thomas breaks years-long silence

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Retired NHL goaltender Tim Thomas broke a years-long public silence Wednesday after being named as part of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame’s class of 2019.

The mercurial Thomas, who led the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011 and made headlines for refusing to visit then-President Barack Obama at the White House, has avoided the spotlight since walking away from hockey in 2014. Thomas was short on details about what he has been up to since his playing days ended but dropped some hints about how far he has separated himself from his past life.

”Everybody probably knows nowadays I don’t actually have all that much to say, at least publicly,” Thomas said on a conference call with reporters. ”Obviously I’ve decided to keep what I’ve been doing with my life and learning to myself at this point, for sure, and probably forever.”

Thomas, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, longtime NHL forward Brian Gionta, Washington youth hockey staple Neal Henderson and U.S women’s star Krissy Wendell will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame at a ceremony in the nation’s capital Dec. 12.

Thomas eight years ago became the oldest player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and is a Boston sports hero for his role in the Bruins’ first championship since 1972. He said last season’s playoffs were the first he had watched since retiring because the Bruins were doing so well. He brushed off the idea of returning to his old home arena.

”With the state of my nervous system since I retired, I wouldn’t be able to hardly handle the energy of the crowd in Boston,” Thomas said. ”So it isn’t as simple as it may seem. Having said that, you never know what the future may hold. I’m just taking life as it goes.”

Thomas revealed that his daughter this week landed an internship with the Bruins and emphasized she earned it. Asked about that being a gateway to getting him back involved in the game, the 45-year-old said he highly doubts that will happen.

”I just don’t see it,” Thomas said. ”I have other interests. I have a totally other focus. I live in a totally different world than the hockey world that I lived in before. I live a long ways away from Boston, and it’s not that fun for me to travel anymore. It isn’t anything to do with the Boston Bruins or the Boston fans, especially. My goodness, they loved the crap out of me when I was there to the point where it was hard to handle.”

A two-time Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s top goalie, Thomas sounds comfortable remaining at a distance from hockey.

”I don’t personally have any relationship with the game,” he said. ”My focus and mind is on learning about other stuff. I learned so much about hockey and that area. I feel like I’ve learned as much as I needed to learn about it. My focus is on learning about other stuff.”

Bettman, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto last year, oversaw the growth of the NHL from 24 to 31 teams with a 32nd coming in 2021. The New York native spearheaded much of the expansion of hockey into so-called nontraditional U.S. markets.

Gionta put up 595 points in 16 NHL seasons and won the Cup with New Jersey in 2003. He represented the U.S. in the 2006 and 2018 Olympics.

Henderson in 1978 co-founded the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, the oldest minority hockey club in North America, and was part of the NHL’s launch of its ”Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.

Wendell won two NCAA titles at Minnesota and ranks fourth all-time with 2.35 points a game. She put up 247 points in 147 international games, was the MVP of the 2005 world championships when the U.S. won gold for the first time and served as captain at the 2006 Olympics.

NY governor says pro teams can resume training

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says teams in his state can return to their facilities for training after a pause of more than two months.

”Starting today, all the New York professional sports leagues will be able to begin training camps,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference Sunday.

The New York City area was one of the hardest-hit parts of the U.S. by the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 deaths and new infections in the state have been trending downward.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are discussing the resumption of their seasons with their players’ unions.

”I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena – do it! Do it!” Cuomo said. ”Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

WCHA’s Alabama-Huntsville cuts hockey program

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Alabama-Huntsville is dropping men’s hockey and men’s and women’s tennis as part of budget cuts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

School officials said athletes in those sports who want to join another team’s roster will be released without penalty and free to transfer immediately. If they choose to stay, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of their academic careers.

Alabama-Huntsville was one of the only southern schools to have a men’s hockey varsity program. The Chargers won Division II national titles in 1996 and 1998 and were Division II runners-up in 1994 and 1997 before making the move to the Division I level for the 1998-99 season.

Men’s hockey had been the lone Division I sport for Alabama-Huntsville. It competes at the Division II level in all other sports.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

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Canada’s NHL teams have offered season-ticket holders rebate or refund options in acknowledgment that no more 2019-20 regular-season games will be played in front of fans in their respective buildings.

In a four-day span May 13-16, all seven teams contacted their season-ticket bases with options and, in some cases, deadlines to make a decision, according to The Canadian Press.

“It has become increasingly apparent, that any possibility will not include any further games being played this season in front of fans at Bell MTS Place,” the Winnipeg Jets said in an email.

That admission may seem anticlimactic given leagues and teams around the world are either playing in empty stadiums, or trying to figure out a way to just resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But season-ticket money is a key element of NHL business. Clubs are loathe to part with it.

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money.

Toronto Maple Leafs season-ticket holders had to declare they wanted their money back by Victoria Day or a credit would be applied to their accounts.

Their Montreal Canadiens counterparts had to make a decision by Friday, while the Vancouver Canucks’ deadline is June 3.

NHLPA board approves 24-team, return-to play-format

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We have our first step towards resuming the 2019-20 season with the approval of the return-to-play format by the NHLPA Executive Board.

The 31 NHL team representatives voted and a majority gave the thumbs up to the 24-team, conference-based proposal.

According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, the vote was 29-2 in favor.

Now the plan moves on to the Board of Governors for their approval.

From the NHLPA:

The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.

If the BOG green lights it, the next steps would include figuring out proper safety protocols for all involved and how the hub city plan would work, among numerous other details.

Based on points percentage at the time of the March 12 NHL pause, the top four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, Dallas) will receive a first-round bye. Round 1 will feature eight play-in matchups in a best-of-five series.

As the play-in round takes place, the eight conference leaders could potentially take part in a mini tournament that will determine the seeding for Round 2. Reseeding after the play-in round is another topic likely to be discussed.

Here’s what it might end up looking like:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Bruins
• Lightning
• Capitals
• Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Blues
• Avalanche
• Golden Knights
• Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

Games would be played without fans with teams based in hub cities potentially located in both the U.S. and Canada. Columbus, Las Vegas, and Edmonton are a few of the cities that have shown interested in playing host to playoff games.

Since the 24-team format entered the rumor mill, it’s received a mixed reaction from players.

“Twenty-four teams sounds like a lot of teams to me,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson told Mike Tirico on Thursday. “You have to make sure there is some level playing field in terms of intensity…So while 24 teams sounds like a lot, maybe due to logistics, that makes the most sense.”

“I will say that when it comes to the format I think it is almost impossible to make everyone happy … the situation is what it is,” Lars Eller of the Capitals said via the Washington Post. “It is far from perfect. We are going to manage the best we can and I do think we will come together and find a solution regarding that. It is not going to be easy.”

Kris Letang told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Penguins players voted “yes” on the proposal citing “greater good for everyone.”

“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” Letang said. “But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.”

MORE:
Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’
Our Line Starts podcast: Evaluating fairness of 24-team NHL playoff

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.