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Julien: 'We don't mix politics with hockey'

WASHINGTON -- Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said during the team’s morning skate Tuesday at Verizon Center that his guess is Tim Thomas will not start in net against the Washington Capitals.

The Bruins’ No. 1 goaltender will not be disciplined for his political comments or his decision to boycott the team’s trip to the White House on Monday to meet President Barack Obama.

“I’m not going to regulate free speech,” Chiarelli said.

As per club policy, the starting goaltender is not made available to the media on game days, so since coach Claude Julien did not announce whether Thomas or Tuukka Rask would start, neither spoke after practice.

“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.”

While management and players recognized Thomas’ right to free speech, not everyone agreed with his decision on the White House visit and his statements.

“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 participates as much as he can in a variety of military engagements. So having a chance to visit the president 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 that he 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 the guys who were there had a lot of fun. It’s something, for me personally, I will remember for the rest of my life.

“Clearly he has strong opinions," he said of Thomas. "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 said they 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 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, [but] 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 team president Cam 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 won't 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.”