Tomas Vokoun's professional career began in 1995-96 with the Wheeling Thunderbirds, the precursor to the Nailers. As a 19-year-old Czech who spoke little English and didn't have a drivers license, he had to take special measures to get to the rink from his apartment.
“I had to sit every morning by the window,” Vokoun said in a 2013 interview with the Post-Gazette. “Wait until [teammates] were leaving so they wouldn’t leave me because I wouldn’t have any way to get to the rink. “
Vokoun, 38, announced his retirement Sunday after 19 professional seasons, including 16 in the NHL. A free agent signing in 2012, he spent two seasons with the Penguins. Serving as a backup for the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, he took over for struggling starter Marc-Andre Fleury and led the Penguins to the Eastern Conference final.
“Tomas has always been a great teammate,” said defenseman Kris Letang. “Obviously a veteran in the room. So many good memories. He's a fun guy to be around. Obviously, every time that he stepped in, especially in the playoffs, he did really well for us. He had a great career I think.”
In 700 career games with the Canadiens, Predators, Panthers, Capitals and Penguins, Vokoun had a 300-288-78 record with a 2.55 goals against average, a .917 save percentage and 51 shutouts.
“I remember a lot playing against him in his years down in Florida. You'd throw a whole bunch of shots at him, 40 or 50 shots at him , and you'd maybe get one goal.”
Well schooled in the details of the game, Vokoun wouldn't hesitate to aid a teammate
“He was the No. 1 [goaltender] there [with the Panthers],” said Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison, a teammate of Vokoun in Florida. “It was good to have him there as a mentor for a defenseman. He's been around obviously. He'd kind of show you your positioning on the ice and how to defend and what goalies expect of you.”
Vokoun was something of a rarity in that he caught pucks with his right hand. Of the 710 goaltenders who have played in at least one NHL game, only 79 (11.1 percent) of them have been - to use the sport's slang - “silly siders.”
“It's odd,” said Lightning left winger Brenden Morrow, a former Penguins teammate of Vokoun. “As a left shot, you kind of thinking low blocker. That's your shot. When there's a silly goalie like that, it changes things up a little bit. It probably gives a little bit more of an advantage to him.”
“It was always tough to read him [in practice],” said Letang. “He had that step on us like he was reading what we were going to do. So you kind of looked bad every time you were going to take a shot on him.”
Vokoun's 2013-14 season was spent on injured reserve as a result of a blood clot in his groin. Aside from a two-game conditioning assignment with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Vokoun did not play at all last season. An unrestricted free agent this offseason, he turned down a handful of free agent offers and training camp invitations before deciding to retire.
(Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)