Did you really think Tim Thomas would ever return to the NHL from his Colorado refuge?
When he departed from public life as a Boston Bruin
in June of 2012, he disappeared as one of the game's elite goaltenders. The late-bloomer won a Stanley Cup championship, a Conn Smythe Trophy and two Vezinas, all after his 35th birthday. He had enough wealth to live comfortably the rest of his life. It appeared he was gone for good.
Thomas didn't even know he would be back. But he could not stay away from the game he grew up with in Flint, Mich.
The 39-year-old goalie missed the competition and his itch to play again was triggered when he watched his old team, the Bruins, march back to the Stanley Cup final
Thomas decided to join the Florida Panthers
on a professional tryout basis this week. He took to the ice with the team for the first time on Tuesday and discussed his comeback bid afterwards.
"I'm very happy with the way the first day went," he told a group of reporters.
"I have a totally different mindset. I have a new love for playing the game. I have a newfound appreciation for being able to play a game at this level and to be part of a team again."
Thomas certainly is a curious case. He was such a feel-good story. After his college days at Vermont, the ninth-round Quebec Nordiques pick kicked around the minors and Europe with eight different teams in nine years before he became a full-time NHLer with the Bruins at age 31.
How could you not love the way he played goal? He was so athletic, so determined to keep the puck out. It was difficult not to pull for the pudgy puck stopper.
But as long as it took him to ascend to the top, his decline was swift. It began when he refused to join his teammates
for the traditional Stanley Cup champions' visit to the White House in late January 2012. He didn't agree with the politics of President Barrack Obama, so Thomas stayed at home and issued an elaborate statement.
"I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People," he wrote. "This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.
"Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL. This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic."
Thomas was vilified. By the time the season had concluded, he had enough. So he proclaimed that he was taking a break. He was criticized again.
Off he went off to Colorado. He got involved in a business that built townhouses. He went on some hunting trips, one to the Florida Everglades, where he killed an alligator and now has it proudly displayed back home in Colorado.
Thomas admitted the criticism he received in the press hurt. But it lasted only three months and that the last 12 months have been blissful with his wife Melissa and their three children, Kiley, Kelsey and Keegan.
Does he regret the year off?
"That's a hard one to answer," he said. "Do I regret it, 'no.' I made the right decision for me and made the right decision for my family. I'm very happy with what came out of it in my own personal life."
Thomas remarked that it was difficult to leave an organization like the Bruins. He said he particularly missed the connection he enjoyed with the supportive Beantown sports fans. But Thomas is excited about his new opportunity in South Florida.
The Panthers have plenty of salary cap space to sign him. They have a spot open with the knee injury to veteran Scott Clemmensen and the uncertainty of whether 23-year-old Jacob Markstrom is ready for prime time.
Now it appears Thomas is excited to play again.
"It's isn't like I stopped playing and then three months later I was refreshed and ready to go," he said. "It took a while. It wasn't until the last six months I started to feel refreshed again and started to think in my mind I wanted to play hockey."
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