Tim Thomas feels 'reborn' in return with Panthers

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

The Stanley Cup-winning goaltender practiced with an NHL club for the first time in over a year on Tuesday.

Tim Thomas left the NHL more than a year ago having lost a Game 7 on home ice, and having his public image severely downgraded with many due to becoming Facebook's warrior poet. He finally came back to organized hockey, practicing with the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. He's on a tryout with the club in training camp, but he felt good in his return.

"I feel great, I feel almost reborn in a way," Thomas told reporters after practice. "After 14 years of pro hockey, I got tired, and I needed a break. Now, I'm energized and I'm looking forward to it and I feel great." He'll just be practicing with the team for the time being. Head coach Kevin Dineen told the media that Thomas will get about eight to nine days of practice in before getting a shot in a game. That would target Thomas to play in either or both of Florida's final two pre-season games, on Sept. 26 and 28 against Tampa Bay.

For now, Thomas gets a fresh start with a franchise that he believes is on the verge of reversing course after missing the playoffs 11 of the last 12 seasons. "I think this organization is right on the verge of a big turnaround. I've actually been through that in Boston before," he said. When I first came into Boston it was 2005-2006, and that was about a low point for the Boston Bruins, and I was able to see that rise of an organization and that team. I think the Florida Panthers are situated in a similar situation."

Thomas, 39, kicked around the minors and never made it with an NHL team full-time until the age of 32, when he finally got a shot with the Bruins in 2005-06. After playing well in 36 games that season, he started the majority of the club's regular season games for each of the next six seasons, including the club's 2011 Stanley Cup Championship.

However, Thomas' reputation soured in Boston after a series of personal controversies. He refused to go meet President Barack Obama during the club's trip the White House following the Cup win. Thomas started to become more infamous for his long-winded, political missives on his personal Facebook page then for goaltending. Following the 2011-12 season, Thomas announced he would take the 2012-13 season off. He explained it, naturally, in a Facebook message, where he said he wanted to reconnect with "friends, family and faith."

Retirement definitely seemed like a realistic option during Thomas' hiatus. "Definitely, it crossed my mind. It isn't like I stopped playing, and three months later I was refreshed and ready to go, otherwise I would've came back," referring, one would think, to the potential of playing after the 2011-12 NHL lockout. "It's really over the past six months that I really started to get refreshed again and really started to think about playing hockey." He claims he didn't watch hockey during the regular season, but during playoff time, he began watching and started to "get the competitive juices flowing" to play again.

What did the goalie do during his year off? Oh, you know, the usual. "I built some townhouses, got involved in some business ventures, tried to spend as much time as I could with my kids. I went on a few hunting trips," including one in Florida where he went hunting alligators. He was successful, apparently "I didn't stuff it," he said. "I made it into kind of a rug."

Thomas went 191-126-50 in Boston, with a career 2.48 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. He's 29-21 in the post-season, with a 2.07 GAA and a .933 save percentage.

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