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Thomas excited to be a part of Panthers' fresh start

by Alain Poupart /

SUNRISE, Fla. -- It's a time for fresh starts around the Florida Panthers. It's certainly the case for the franchise, whose sale became official Friday, and it also applies to their new veteran goaltender.

Tim Thomas' NHL career officially was reborn Thursday when he signed a one-year contract with the Panthers after joining the team during training camp on a professional tryout.

"I'm very excited to be a Florida Panther,” Thomas said after practice Friday. "I'm very excited to be part of an organization that's in the middle of a new start, looking to grow and get better being part of a group that's headed in the same direction."

The signing of Thomas came after he spent time with new owner Vincent "Vinnie" Viola on Thursday.

Tim Thomas said joining the Florida Panthers at the same time new owner Vinnie Viola purchased the team made it right situation for him. (Photo: Kinfay Moroti, Fort Myers Gannett)

After the meeting, Viola signed off on the Panthers adding the 39-year-old, two-time Vezina Trophy winner and winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2011 when he led the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup.

"He has an aura about him," Thomas said of the Panthers' new owner. "He breathes confidence, from my perspective. He's a leader. I'm happy -- very happy -- to be coming into the organization at the same time that he is. That's awesome. That's part of what I'm excited about. I'm excited about the whole direction of everything that's going on."

Thomas' signing came 10 days after he accepted the Panthers' PTO offer.

Even after sitting out the 2012-13 season, Thomas said he felt confident from the start that he eventually would earn a contract with Florida.

"I felt good," Thomas said. "I knew that I'd train the whole year off and I knew that I was in good condition and I knew they'd be happy with what they saw. So I was pretty confident."

Shortly after signing his contract with the Panthers, Thomas made his first appearance in an NHL game in more than 17 months, Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Estero, Fla.

Thomas started for Florida and stopped nine of 10 shots before being replaced by Jacob Markstrom in the second period of the Panthers' 3-2 overtime loss.

"My movement felt real good, my tracking the puck felt real good, 90 percent of the game situations felt comfortable," Thomas said. "Considering I did have [17] months off, even though I wasn't worried about it, I knew … I played a long time. I have a lot of experience.

It's kind of a little bit like riding a bike. Having said that, I was happy with the way it went."

The day after his first game action, Thomas said he didn't feel any soreness or physical aches, and didn't expect to.

The Panthers close their preseason schedule Saturday with a rematch against the Lightning, but coach Kevin Dineen said he hadn't decided on his goalie situation.

Thomas, however, is expected to be the starter when the Panthers open their regular season schedule Oct. 3 at the Dallas Stars.

"He brings a lot of leadership and a lot of big-game situations where we're going to need some big saves at big times," forward Kris Versteeg said. "That's a big part that a young group needs. We need big saves in big times, and that's what Timmy is going to bring."

Dineen called the game Thursday a good start for Thomas.

"It has the makings of a good relationship," Dineen said.

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