Thomas has not played in the 16 months since he decided to step away from the game to spend time with his family. The Panthers signed the 39-year-old netminder to a professional tryout agreement (PTO) on Monday.
If he makes the team out of camp, circle Nov. 7 on your calendar. That’s when the Bruins will host the Panthers at TD Garden. The Bruins also play the Panthers in Florida on Oct. 17.
“I was happy to see him coming back,” Bruins No. 1 goalie and former Thomas backup Tuukka Rask said Wednesday. “Like I’ve said before, I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened and it did. I’m hoping that he’s going to make the team, get a good contract and get a good year out of it.”
Thomas said Tuesday he feels refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to show he can still compete at this level, despite his hiatus.
“If he wants to be good, he will be good, there’s no doubt about that,” Rask said. “I don’t think it’s too big of an issue to take a year off and come back. I’m sure he kept himself sharp, saw some pucks and it won’t be that big of a deal to come back. He’s definitely the guy to make it happen.”
Thomas said he didn’t think about hockey over the past year until he watched his former team reach the Stanley Cup finals last June. It was then that the competitive juices began to flow and he started to train for his possible comeback.
“Obviously, he was here for a while and has deep relationships with a bunch of our players,” Rask said. “I’m sure he was emotional about watching [the Cup finals] and he felt the itch, I bet when he saw us play and make that run again after he was a big part of it a couple of years ago. I think it’s good that he didn’t think about hockey during the year. He just totally cleared his mind and he’ll be fresh coming out.”
Rask wasn’t the only Bruins player that thinks Thomas can return to the NHL.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Bruins forward Gregory Campbell. “He’s a competiveness guy and I know, personally, stepping away from the game for any reason, whether it’s an injury or the lockout, this is a game we play because we all love it. It’s obviously a job and a career but we all love playing the game. It’s only natural for anyone to miss the game. I know with Timmy’s competitive nature doesn’t surprise me at all. He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve played with.
“Seeing the success we had last year I’m sure brought him back to 2011 when we can all attest to the fact that the longer you play in the playoffs the more fun it is. We’re fortunate on this team to have such a great group of guys and it’s fun to play. I’m sure those are some of the thoughts going through his mind.”
Campbell learned first-hand how tough it is to watch from the outside and how difficult it can be to get back into game shape due to a significant time off the ice.
“I’ll say this: It’s not easy for anybody to take that amount of time off and come back, but if anybody can do it I’m sure Timmy is a strong candidate,” Campbell said. “He likes to prove people wrong. He’s a super-competitive athlete and he’s a talented player as well and that will bode well for him. He obviously had his reasons to take some time off, so sometimes you can reflect a little bit, refresh your mind and body, come back and you feel that excitement for the game again. I think Timmy is going to do well.”