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Thomas Takes The Ice Feeling Refreshed

by Alexandra Maass / Florida Panthers

Veteran goaltender Tim Thomas returned to the ice today showing his competitive edge during Tuesday’s training camp practice at the Iceplex in Coral Springs, after his year away from the NHL, sprawling and making saves like the Thomas of old. Thomas accepted the Panthers PTO offer Monday and was then cleared to practice today, in hopes of making a lasting impression on the team to land a contract.

After his year away from the game, Thomas said he feels great.

“I feel almost reborn in a way,” said Thomas. “After 14 years of pro hockey, I got tired. I needed a break. But I’m energized and looking forward to it. I feel great.”

The buzz began about Florida looking into Thomas as a free agent to place in goal last week; and the buzz has only gotten stronger. Fans and media attended practice today to watch him return to the cage, and see if he still has what it takes to be a top goalie in the league.

The two-time Vezina Trophy winner and Conn Smythe Trophy winner led the Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory in 2011. Not only does he bring knowledge and experience to Florida, he said he also brings his truly competitive nature and leadership.

“I’ve been around for a long time. Nothing can replace experience is one of the things that I have learned,” said Thomas. “I remember being a young guy in the league and having people talk about experience, and thinking that experience is overrated. But now that I am on the other end of the spectrum and have been through it, I realize how much experience can be beneficial.”

That is exactly what the Panthers were looking for when offering him a professional tryout. With Scott Clemmensen out for three weeks of camp, Florida was looking into their goaltending situation. With Jacob Markstrom, who played in 23 games last season, and three other netminders on the training camp roster with no NHL experience, they were looking for a backbone to support the young goalies.

And there is no better backbone than a veteran goaltender with a Cup under his belt. He has posted a career .921 save percentage, 2.48 goals against average and a 196-121-45 record with 31 shutouts in 378 career NHL games. Despite posting a 35-19-1 record with a 2.36 goals against average during the 2011-12 season, Thomas decided to take a year off to “focus on family, friends and faith.” After spending time with his kids, going on hunting trips, and building townhouses, he returns feeling refreshed with high hopes for the his future, and the Panthers as well.

“I think this organization is right on the verge of a big turnaround, a big bounce back,” said Thomas.

On his return to the NHL, Thomas says he’s ready for a fresh start in Florida. He didn’t watch hockey much during the beginning of the lockout season, but when playoffs came around he said it “started to get the competitive juices flowing again.”

Goaltender Tim Thomas looks to stop the puck during his first practice with the Panthers

Panthers players were also excited to have a veteran netminder join them and add to the intensity that training camp has brought thus far. Markstrom said he can learn a lot from him.

“He was very successful in Boston and won the cup there, so he absolutely has a lot of experience,” Markstrom said. “He’s a good goalie, he proved it. I’m on my way to prove that, and I want to be a starting goalie in this league, and he’s been it for a long time so I think it’s a really good mix.”

”I think if you were to say one or two things about the way he approaches the game, it’s a true competitor, and he hates to be scored on,” said forward Scottie Upshall. “You can tell right off the bat he’s going to be good for [Markstrom], he’s going to be good competition. We’re expecting him to come in and be a big backbone for us.”

Thomas says he never competed against other goalies on his team because he never looked at it that way. He said he’s “competing against himself” to earn a spot on the team, and get the results he wants.

“I definitely came here to play hockey,” said Thomas.

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