By Allan Muir
By all accounts, Tim Thomas looked pretty good today for a guy making his return to the ice after 15 months of self-imposed exile from the game. His reflexes were sharp, his positioning was solid and the old competitive fire was back in his eyes.
One observer said it'll probably take him longer to get used to seeing Thomas wearing red than it'll take the 39-year-old to return to top form with his new team, the Florida Panthers.
Thomas still has to sign a new deal -- he's only in camp on a professional tryout -- but after today's successful debut it's a good bet that the former Vezina Trophy winner will be in the net when the Panthers open the season in Dallas on October 3.
After the workout, Thomas, looking fit and fresh, spent a few minutes with the local media. Here are some of the highlights.
On the effects of the year off
"I feel great. I feel recharged. I feel almost reborn in a way. After 14 years of pro hockey . . . I got tired. I needed a break, but now I'm energized."
On why he's coming back
"You know what really gave me the itch was watching the playoffs. I didn't watch hockey at all during the season. I saw my former team, the Boston Bruins, have the success they had . . . and it got the competitive juices going again."
"Umm . . . that's a hard one to answer. In the big picture, no, I made the right decision for me and I made the right decision for my family. I'm very happy with what's [come] out of it in my own personal life. Now, is it hard to leave an organization that gave me my opportunity to break into the NHL and a place that accepted me as part of the family? Yeah, of course it's hard to do that. Having said all things, it was still the best decision for me and my family."
On how he filled his time away from the game
"I did a ton of stuff over the year off. I built some townhouses. I got involved in some business ventures. I tried to spend as much time as I could with my kids. I went on a few hunting trips, [including] one here in Florida last summer, an alligator hunt in the Everglades. And yeah, I got one. I made it into a rug kinda thing."
On the first day back at practice
"I think it went great. It was great to be on the ice with NHL-level talent and competing with those guys. I'm very happy with the way the first day went."
On his conversations with Florida GM Dale Tallon
"I told him I was in shape and ready to go. And he convinced me of a direction that the Florida Panthers are headed in and, ultimately, it made my decision very easy to come here."
On whether the media attention affected him
"It did, a little bit at first, but over the course of the year I didn't listen to the media at all. I'm not trying to [get in] any digs or whatever, but I was in a different place where I was focusing on different things. Now I have a new love for playing the game. A new-found appreciation for playing the game at this level and being part of a team. I'm doing a bad job of describing it, but I feel totally new."