HE turned up at Sheffield Steelers as a fresh-faced 23-year-old.
Now Mark Thomas is regarded as the club’s “most senior player” after signing a new deal, for his eighth season at the Arena.
The Cheshire-born defenceman, who will be 29 when the season starts, will be a central figure in a six-man unit that could be the pride of the division.
Coach Ryan Finnerty said: “Having four quality imports plus (new signing) Danny Meyers alongside him this year will give the Steelers, I think, the strongest D core that the Elite League has seen.
“He is a character player and person; you don’t stay in Sheffield for eight years unless you are.
“Those inside our hockey club know how valuable he is to us as a leader. He turns up to the rink with a positive attitude every day.
“With many new players joining us next season Tommo will be valuable on and off the ice as a player and as our most senior player.”
Thomas joined the Steelers in the 2005-06 and has played almost 400 games for the club and become a senior Great Britain international.
Thomas said: “As I get older, I guess the time will come when I will have to get a proper job and join the real world, but I’m trying to delay that for as long as possible.
“I couldn’t have had a better time than the one I have had here in Sheffield and I want that to continue for a while yet.
“I welcome the new additions at the back end. If we can rotate six D men for the majority of the season it will only help us. Out on the ice we can go harder, be more aggressive and not have to conserve energy.
“It’s a huge step forward for the club going with six and I can’t wait to get back to the rink and get going again.”