CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Tim Thomas took a few hunting trips during his break from hockey, including one journey to Florida where he ended up snagging an alligator.
He's back in Florida, and gators aren't exactly on his mind this time.
Declaring himself "reborn" after more than a year off, the Woodland Park area resident was back on NHL ice Tuesday, working out with the Florida Panthers for the first time since agreeing to a tryout deal with the club. The goaltender with two Vezina Trophies and a Stanley Cup on his resume will accompany the Panthers starting Wednesday for their three-game, four-day road trip to Dallas, San Antonio and Tampa, Fla.
"After 14 years of pro hockey, I got tired and I needed a break," Thomas said. "Now I'm energized and I'm looking forward to it."
Thomas came to Florida to compete for a starting job and will only need to beat Jacob Markstrom to win that role. Markstrom has been the Panthers' goalie of the future for some time and arrived in this camp expecting to finally be the No. 1 guy.
Markstrom didn't seem bothered 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."
Thomas said he is willing to help Markstrom.
"I never competed against the other goalie on my team," Thomas said. "That's the way that people want to frame it, that it's a competition between goalies, but that's not the way I look at it. I'm competing against myself."
Thomas agreed to the deal on Monday and all indications are that the tryout is a mere precursor to an actual contract for the 39-year-old goalie who was outstanding with the Boston Bruins for parts of eight seasons, posting a 2.45 goals-against average.
He decided to take last season off to focus on family, faith and friends, as he put it, and said Tuesday that he largely steered his mind away from hockey.
"When it was playoff time I started to watch hockey and started to get the competitive juices flowing and I saw my former team, the Boston Bruins, have the success they had," he said. "I was so proud of those guys and what they did."
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen was impressed with what he saw in his first practice.
"As advertised," Dineen said. "He came in and gave that high-compete level. He works on every shot and everything that I heard about him we saw in practice today."
Thomas became a polarizing figure for some of his off-ice decisions, such as taking the year off when he was still under contract and skipping the Bruins' trip to the White House in 2011 because of political beliefs.
"I've got better things to think about," he said. "I'm here to play hockey."