VANCOUVER -- Tim Thomas is back in Vancouver for the first time since hoisting the Stanley Cup here in 2011, but the Florida Panthers goaltender wasn't interested in reminiscing about his Conn Smythe-winning playoff performance with the Boston Bruins.
Asked about being back in the room where he celebrated winning both the Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP award two-and-a-half years ago, Thomas talked first about his skates that night, about how much they were hurting his feet, and how long he waited to take them off.
"You just won the Stanley Cup, you should want to celebrate, but all I could think was, 'I've got to get these skates off,' and I couldn't because there were so many people," Thomas said.
Thomas, 39, didn't seem interested in revisiting his championship run with the Bruins, or the preceding war of words with Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, who will be in the goal opposite Thomas on Tuesday night for the first time since that Game 7.
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Ask him about an earlier visit for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, however, and Thomas has plenty to say.
A smile broke out as he looked back at being a part of the United States' silver-medal run at Rogers Arena, even if he only played one period. Thomas left little doubt the chance to return to the Sochi Olympics was a driving force in his return to the NHL after leaving Boston, and the final year of his contract, to spend a year with his family.
"My goal growing up was to win a gold medal, it wasn't to play in the NHL," Thomas told NHL.com. "Through high school my plan was how to get to college and make the Olympic team, because it was college players then. And right as I was getting into my college years they changed it to pro, so I had to switch my plan to playing college to make pro to make the Olympic team."
Now, Thomas is determined to make a second Olympic team. The Michigan native wasn't invited to America's Olympic orientation camp in the fall, but was still on hiatus then. Thomas said Tuesday that his agent was told by U.S. management no decisions would be made until the end of December, giving him exactly six weeks to remind them he can still be one of the world's best.
With a 4-6-0 record, 2.87 goals-against average and .908 save percentage so far behind a struggling Panthers team, there is work to do. But after being stalled twice by injury and despite still adjusting to new defensemen, Thomas showed signs of the form that won him the Vezina Trophy as the top NHL goalie in 2009 and 2011 during recent road wins against the Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche.
Knowing what to expect and when he can challenge is important for a goalie as aggressive as Thomas.
"Right off the bat I felt good and felt I was going to pick up where I left off," he said, adding that was derailed by the injuries. "I have had to get used to scoring chances coming from different spots. You play in one system so long, you know where your chances are going to come from. I'm actually still in the process of learning these defensemen."
New Panthers coach Peter Horachek is also learning about his veteran goaltender, and so far he likes what he sees -- both in games, as he has started Thomas for all six he's coached, and in practice, where Thomas still hates to get scored on and battles on every puck.
"His compete level and wanting to make that save and smile while doing it, I appreciate that and the guys do too," Horachek said. "He inspires you. When things get broken down, you have to have that guy, especially when your team is finding its way, is finding its direction, so he's been a really positive influence."
That included the morning skate Tuesday, which started with Horachek telling his players the Panthers had never won at Rogers Arena; the franchise's only victory in Vancouver came at the old Pacific Coliseum in 1994.
"And Tim says, 'I have,'" Horachek said. "That got the guys to laugh a little and smile a little bit."
Thomas isn't sure he could have been that same guy, or the same goalie, if he didn't take the 2012-13 season off.
"Probably not to the level I would have been satisfied with, and that would have made me miserable," Thomas said. "I might not have had the drive to play to the level I wanted, and so it probably would have been a bad situation if I continued to play and didn't take that year off."
Thomas has no regrets about stepping away for a year, and never doubted he would get another job in the NHL, even at age 39.
"No, I always thought I'd get a chance, I just didn't know what it would look like," he said, "But saying that, I guess I did take that risk."
For Thomas, the bigger risk might have been falling off the Olympic radar. Then again, if anyone understands there is no need to rush, it's a goalie that had to wait until he was 32, and had played nine seasons in the minor leagues and Europe, before getting his first full-time NHL job.
By the time the Bruins came calling, Thomas had come to peace with a career that didn't include the NHL. Now he doesn't want it to end without another trip to the Olympics.