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Panthers Battle Royale in Practice: Olesz vs. Weiss ... Preseason Begins

Boxing When Stephen Weiss finally made it back into the Panthers locker room following the Monday morning workout, the right side of his face was a little bruised and starting to swell.

The Panthers haven't been too physical during training camps of the recent past, but Weiss found out first hand that this year things are a bit different.

Not only did Weiss get rammed hard into the side boards by rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson during a scrimmage, but he also traded punches with Rostislav Olesz during practice.

“Sometimes you have to change it up, try and spark things, get things going,'' Weiss said with a smile. “We're out there competing. It wasn't a planned thing, it just happens. It's part of the game. We're not in position to coast our way through camp. It's an intense camp. People are fighting for jobs. When you haven't made the playoffs as long as we have, you have to go hard every day and make sure we're ready for the season.''

Weiss said on Saturday that Olesz needed to play with a little anger and helped light that fuse during blocking drills. Olesz, who scored 14 goals last year, has looked to play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, drawing raves from general manager Dale Tallon. “Olesz has looked great,'' Tallon said, adding that the message has been sent to Olesz many times that he needs to play more physical.

“It was a good thing that happened and we're still buddies,'' Weiss said. “I think he scored four goals in the drill after that so it just goes to show how he plays when he's fired up. You see what he can do. Maybe he'll have 40 fights in practice this year.''

And it's not just Olesz. The Panthers have a bunch of players trying to impress coaches and staff during this training camp as few jobs are secure. There are a handful of forward working toward a roster spot, and more defensemen than the Panthers have room.

Keaton Ellerby didn't get much of a look by coach Pete DeBoer during his 22 game stint with the Panthers this year but has put on some weight and is playing much more assertively. Mike Santorelli has looked sharp as he jockeys for one of the center spots.

“Sometimes the young guys show too much respect in camp, they just stand by and watch,'' said DeBoer. “The message here is we don't care how old you are, where you are drafted. If we think they can help us win games, there will be a spot. There's no better opportunity than here in Florida. Guys are taking that approach. .-.-. We're not the Stanley Cup champions where it's a love-in. We were the third worst team in the league last year. There should be physical play.''


The Panthers will hold a short practice in Coral Springs on Tuesday morning before flying to Raleigh, N.C., for the first exhibition game of the preseason later that night. The Panthers are basically landing in Raleigh, playing the game, then loading up and flying to Rochester, N.Y.

Rochester is the home to the Panthers American Hockey League affiliate and will be the site of a full workout on Wednesday as well as a preseason game on Thursday against the Bruins.

The Panthers will play four road exhibition games through Monday. Florida will play host to Carolina on Sept. 29 and Tampa Bay on Oct. 1 at BankAtlantic Center. The preseason schedule ends Oct. 2 in Tampa.

“It's nice to skate with the team in practice, but you want to get in preseason games and get your game legs,'' Weiss said. “We're getting ready for the opener now.''

-- DeBoer says expect to see starting goalie Tomas Vokoun get plenty of work in the preseason as “he likes to play, so you might see him more in the preseason than you would expect.''

The Panthers want Vokoun to be as sharp as he can be for the Oct. 10 opener at Edmonton, so they are letting him dictate the playing schedule – to a point. Rookie Jacob Markstrom is expected to get in a lot of work as well.


Practice at Coral Springs Iceplex, 11-11:45 a.m.; Panthers preseason game at Carolina Hurricanes (no TV, radio), 7 p.m.