Speaking Tuesday for the first time since returning to the ice, goaltender Tim Thomas said it did not cross his mind to play hockey again until watching his former Boston Bruins teammates reach the Stanley Cup finals.
"You know what really gave me the itch? Watching the playoffs," Thomas told reporters in Sunrise, Fla., where he is trying out for the Florida Panthers. "Actually, over the last season I didn't watch hockey at all. But then when it came playoff time, I started to watch some hockey and it started to get the competiveness juices flowing and I saw my former team, the Boston Bruins, and the success they had and I was so proud of those guys and what they did, what they accomplished last year, but it started to get the competiveness juices flowing again."
It has been 16 months since the 39-year-old Thomas announced he was sitting out the final year of his contract to spend time with his family. The surprise announcement thrust backup Tuukka Rask into the starter's role, where he thrived last season.
During his hiatus, Thomas was off the radar, making his home in Colorado. He started a real estate business and built townhouses. He said he spent a lot of time with his kids and went on hunting trips. He said he even caught an alligator and turned it into a rug.
The Bruins last summer traded the rights to the two-time Vezina-winning Thomas to the New York Islanders, who made him a free agent when they decided not to toll his contract. Thomas returned to the ice in July, working out in Michigan, and on Monday agreed to a tryout deal with the Panthers.
"I think this organization is on the verge of a big turnaround and a big bounce back," he said. "I've actually been through that in Boston before. When I first came into Boston in 2005-06, that was a low point for the Boston Bruins and I was able to see that rise in that organization. The Florida Panthers are situated in a similar situation.
"My time in Boston was great. I was very fortunate to have the type of personal and team success there. Great teammates, great area, the people of that area allowed me to almost be part of their family. This is a totally new start, totally new place and I'm looking forward to what's going to happen in the future here."
Thomas wouldn't speculate on how long he wants to play hockey, saying only he felt "rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to go."
Part of the reason the Panthers decided to offer Thomas a tryout is to add some experience to the goaltending position. Florida's starter is Jacob Markstrom, the 23-year-old Swede who went 8-14-1 with a 3.22 goals-against average last season.
"Nothing can replace experience is one of the things I've learned," Thomas said. "I remember being a young guy in the league and having people talk about experience and thinking experience is overrated. Now that I'm on the other end of the spectrum and I've been through it, I realize experience can be beneficial."
Markstrom didn't seem bothered in any way by Thomas' arrival.
"It's the best league in the world," Markstrom said. "It's not supposed to be easy. It's going to be a fun experience and I'm really excited."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.