PEABODY — Tim Thomas has dreamed of playing in the Olympics since he was 5.
The Boston Bruins goaltender and father of three spoke yesterday at his children's school, Covenant Christian Academy, sharing his dreams of playing for gold, his ice time with his father and his late entry into the National Hockey League.
Thomas will be one of three goalies on the American ice hockey team at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, which kick off Feb. 12. Thomas visited each of his children's classrooms before speaking at a schoolwide assembly.
The Olympic theme song blared over the speakers when Thomas entered the school gym yesterday. A banner signed by students was hung near the front of the room. Red, white and blue balloons and small American flags decorated the space.
Led by Headmaster Tom Stoner, kids at the 206-student, pre-K-12 private school in West Peabody chanted "U-S-A" to the 35-year-old hockey player. The headmaster, who had taken student questions before, asked Thomas about his career and impending participation in the Olympics.
Thomas, who wore a long-sleeved T-shirt, jeans and cap, said he was inspired to play hockey after watching the 1980 Olympics. He was 5 and the Russians were supposed to be unbeatable, the Bruin said.
The Americans' come-from-behind victory stuck with him.
"It's my oldest dream," Thomas said. "I've been dreaming about what's going to come for 30 years."
The 5-foot-11 goalie said he has plenty of challenges as a professional hockey player. Thomas was drafted in the ninth round in 1994 but didn't get his chance to play in the NHL until five years ago.
At 29, Thomas had come to grips with the idea that he might not play in the big leagues.
"I made peace, but it never meant I gave up," he said.
At 30, he got a second chance.
"By the grace of God, I'm here now," the Bruin said.
He thanked his children, Kiley, Kelsey and Keegan, and wife, Melissa, who joined him yesterday at the front of the gym.
Thomas said he is one of six Bruins playing in the Olympics, but the only Boston player joining the American team. His teammates will play for the Canada, Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia teams.
On another question, Thomas said he wouldn't use his Bruins mask but had a special red, white and blue mask made for the Olympics.
"I'm getting it tomorrow," he told the students.
Thomas was joined by Olympic gold medalist and Covenant mother Sandra Whyte Sweeney, who played on the gold-medal U.S. Olympic women's hockey squad in 1998 at Nagano. Her two children, third-grader Sarah and first-grader Jed, attend the academy.
Sweeney spoke about the food at the Olympic Village and the McDonald's that's nearly always included.
She interacted with students, quizzing them about this year's American athletes. The youngest? 16. The oldest? 40. The tallest? 6-foot-5. The shortest? 5 feet.
"And how many dads?" Sweeney asked.
Thomas would be one of 17, the athletic mom told the students.
"That's not very many I'm sorry to say," she said, "but it may be a little bit tougher to be one of six moms."
Stoner completed the afternoon rally by sending Thomas off with a Bible and a hooded sweatshirt from the school with a sign taped across the front, "accepting applications." Thomas could wear it on the medal stand, the headmaster joked.
Stoner hoped their Olympic dad would take the Bible with him to Vancouver.
"We're going to be cheering for you and praying for you," said Stoner who ended the rally with a prayer.
Afterward, Sweeney marveled at the likelihood of two Olympic parents at one school.
"This is such a small school for both of us to be here," the Saugus native and Harvard alumna said. "It's exciting. It's exciting for the children."
Seventh-grader Jake Cahill appreciated Thomas' visit.
"I thought it was, like, really cool that he could come talk about his experience and his journey to the Olympics," he said.
Sam Azucena, a seventh-grader, said he was especially interested to learn Thomas wanted to go to the Olympics since he was 5.
Sophomore Shane Caufield said he liked knowing Thomas' thoughts on the Olympics and how he played hockey with his father.
"Seeing someone in person and seeing him on TV, you're in shock almost," he said. "I wish him good luck."
Thomas and the American men's hockey team will play its first game against Canada on Feb. 16 at noon, Vancouver time.