Count Wednesday as a historic day in the history of the Panthers organization. Not the eve of the 20th regular-season opener in Panthers history, Thursday night in Dallas. But …
“For my first and last goalie announcement of the year, I usually don’t go down that line, Timmy’s going to get opening night,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “I’m very pleased with the way he’s played over the last coupe of weeks in practice and in the games he came in. He’s earned the net on opening night.”
“Timmy” is 39-year-old Tim Thomas, Stanley Cup-winning No. 1 goalie with Boston in 2011, playing his first real NHL game after taking a personal sabbatical during the 2012-13 lockout-and-season.
“Absolutely, I’m excited to be back, excited to be playing, which is a great place to be,” Thomas said. “Sometimes, it can turn into a job. But I had a break and it doesn’t feel like a job. It feels the way it’s supposed to be, where I’m blessed and fortunate to be in a position like this and playing a game I love.”
Dineen said he based picking Thomas over Jakob Markstrom and just-cleared-to-play Scott Clemmensen solely on performance. Thomas denied feeling any rustiness.
“Not rust,” he said. “Situations came up during preseason that reminded me of what the game of hockey is. Sometimes, it’s bounces and stuff. You’ve just got to adjust to them. The way the preseason games played out for me, I think it was a good way to get me back in.”
Displaying the confidence of a goalie with a Cup, he said, “I expected it. I’m 39 years old. I started to play goalie when I was 5 years old. Even taking that year off, that still means I’ve practiced 33 years at this position. It’s still played with sticks, it’s still played with pucks. A lot of it is still the same.”
Though backup goalie Clemmensen has been cleared medically to play, he’s not officially on the roster yet. That means Jakob Markstrom will start the season with the Panthers. When Clemmensen rejoins the roster, the Panthers will have to send a player down to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio to remain under the 23-player roster limit.
Dineen sounded almost giddy over the NHL season starting Wednesday night. He watched Toronto-Montreal, Washington-Chicago and some Dallas game film. Thomas, who joined the Panthers late in training camp’s first week, watched nothing.
“I don’t have a TV yet,” he chuckled.