By Kirk Luedeke
The Boston Bruins followed a tradition honored by most professional sports teams these days by accepting an invitation by President Barack Obama and visiting the White House Monday.
The 2011 Stanley Cup champions and the team's front office, along with owners Jeremy Jacobs and Charles Jacobs, were on their first visit to the nation's capital this season. The dreary weather outside did nothing to dampen the mood indoors.
President Obama opened his remarks with some humor, quipping that the Bruins were "wicked happy to be here." The Chicago sports fan in him also got some jabs in about Boston's recent dominant run of championship titles, including the New England Patriots, who just the day before had clinched their second AFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years.
Conspicuously absent from the event, hosted by the President in the White House's East Room, was 2011 playoff MVP and Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Tim Thomas, one of just two Americans on the current Boston roster (Steven Kampfer). Thomas, who declined to attend or subsequently address his decision through certain members of the media who reached out to him, issued a statement on his personal Facebook page later that evening.
"Timmy decided not to come," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said shortly after the ceremony concluded. "That's all we know and you'll probably have to ask more questions (and) get it directly from him."
For those who were part of the brief, six-minute ceremony however, it was a chance to bring the team together one last time (minus Thomas and Michael Ryder, who was unable to attend because his Dallas Stars were in action that evening). Retired players Mark Recchi and Shane Hnidy were there, as was former Bruin and current Montreal defenseman Tomas Kaberle.
"I think it was a special day," said Patrice Bergeron, who along with Thomas is the longest-tenured Bruin, having broken into the league with the team in 2003-04. "I tried to soak everything in and enjoy everything. It was a lot of fun."
The Bruins presented President Obama with a home sweater with the number 11 and his name emblazoned on the back to commemorate the visit.
"As a kid growing up in Quebec City I never thought I would one day meet the President of the United States," Bergeron said. "But to do that is something special."
Brad Marchand got a brief moment in the presidential spotlight when Obama referenced his role on the team a year ago, mentioning his start on the fourth line and then concluding that the "Little Ball of Hate shrugged off the rookie jitters."
Marchand was all smiles afterwards.
"No, I definitely wasn't," Marchand said when asked if he expected the personal touch from the host. "It really caught me off guard. It was fun when it happened and I noticed he gave me a little shot there from behind, so it was all in good fun."
Bruins coach Claude Julien talked about how the event provided the final closure on the team's memorable run, now more than seven months in the books. He also said meeting the president made it more exciting for him and the team to try and work themselves back to another championship.
First, they'll take on the injury-ravaged Washington Capitals, who received another setback Monday. The Caps will be without leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom (injury) and top goal scorer and Alexander Ovechkin, who was suspended three games Monday by NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for his hit on Pittburgh defenseman Zbynek Michalek.
Tim Thomas statement on his personal Facebook page:
"I believe the federal government has grown out of control, threatening the rights, liberties, and property of the people. This is being done at the executive, legislative, and judicial level. This is in direct opposite 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.''
Bruins President Cam Neely released this statement on the Boston Bruins website:
"As an organization we were honored by President Obama's invitation to the White House. It was a great day and a perfect way to cap our team's achievement from last season. It was a day that none of us will soon forget. We are disappointed that Tim chose not to join us, and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Jacobs family or the Bruins organization. This will be the last public comment from the Bruins organization on this subject.''