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A 'Canadien' Vacation

NiagraIn a reverse of what most sane folk do, the Panthers are leaving sunny South Florida for a winter vacation in Canada. Snow birds? Call them the Snow Cats.

Sure, the NHL has more to do with the Panthers travel plans than the team itself, but I for one can't wait to visit the Canadian tundra. Hear Edmonton is beautiful this time of year (actually the weather isn't going to be that bad. Maybe Buffalo bad, but not terrible.)

Panthers are in the midst of their final game of 2006 (leading Montreal 1-0 right now) and thanks to that quirky schedule will play their next four games against teams from TGWN* (Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary and the Luongos).

And now,

THE NEWS: Stephen Weiss was a game-time decision for JM, and the decision was Game On! Weiss was back in the lineup for the first time since getting hurt against the Ducks (tougher than their name implies I guess) on Dec. 12. Weiss centered a line with Gregory Campbell and Juraj Kolnik. Chris Gratton remained at center, anchoring a line with Ville Peltonen and David Booth. Other lines: Olli-Roberts-Horton; Stumpel-Olesz-Gelinas.

-- Ed Belfour back in net despite Alex Auld's shutdown performance against the Habs the last time out. Belfour came into the game 8-8-3; Auld is 6-11-4.

-- Assistant coach Guy Charron voiced over an ad in French plugging future Panther games. Nice touch. I make fun of the ads in this joint as much as anyone, but this was a clever way to push tickets.

And talk about reaching out to your consumers: The upper deck is packed, not an empty seat to be found. And 98 percent of them are rooting for the Habs.

-- Friday's game was the Panthers last at home until Jan. 10.

(*) - Denotes The Great White North.