The team opened training camp in Coral Springs on Saturday morning and will remain in South Florida until leaving for their first exhibition game Tuesday night in Raleigh, N.C. The Panthers will also play preseason games in Rochester, N.Y., Boston and Montreal before returning home.
After what the team has been through, that's nothing.
“This is a cakewalk,'' said defenseman Bryan McCabe. “No excuses this year. We're not traveling anywhere. It's going to be fun.''
Since 2005, the Panthers have held parts of training camp in Vail, Colorado, western Canada and Nova Scotia. They have played exhibition games on Prince Edward Island, in Saskatchewan, North Dakota and even in Puerto Rico.
Last year, not only did the Panthers go to Finland for a week, but had training camp in Nova Scotia before embarking on a Canadian tour. Last year, the Panthers were estimated to have traveled 7,000 miles either through the air or on the ground in the preseason. The flight to Helsinki covered over 10,000 miles.
One benefit to staying home is the access to the fans. The Panthers are hosting what they are calling 'Hockey Day in South Florida' on Sunday, with a 1 p.m. practice and a full team scrimmage starting at 2.
Coach Pete DeBoer and his staff will hold a coaching clinic for youth coaches in the morning. The Panthers training facility in Coral Springs will be all things hockey. Admission is free.
“I think it's a great idea,'' said DeBoer. “We have to grow hockey through the grass roots here in Florida. How we start this is these kinds of days, having training camp here, getting the kids and coaches in here. Our players know that. It adds some excitement.''
Added Stephen Weiss: “There's no secret the traveling has been tough on us. We don't need to be burning all that energy and there's no excuse now if we don't get off to a good start. We should go into the season with some gas in the tank. It's nice to be at home and just travel a little bit. It should help.''
-- One player 'fighting' to make the Panthers roster is enforcer Andrew Peters. The 6-4, 250-pound winger spent last season with the Devils but signed on as a free agent with the Panthers after having his contract bought out.
Peters, who has four goals and 80 fights in 229 games, says his brand of hockey is still needed in the new NHL. He has a two-way contract, meaning he can be sent to the minors without having to go through waivers. Peters is expected to split time with the Panthers and the team's AHL affiliate in Rochester.
“This is going to be a very competitive camp,'' Peters said on Saturday. “There are spots available and spots to be won. You can tell by the flow of the practices that guys came here ready to go. I've been impressed with the young guys.''
-- Center Mark Cullen, who was expected to start the season in the minors, missed the first day of camp and could be out a little bit of time after being hurt doing physicals on Friday morning. Cullen is thought to have an ankle injury, but will be examined on Monday to make sure it's not something more serious.
Sunday's Scrimmage Roster
PANTHERS TRAINING CAMP
All practices at Coral Springs Iceplex unless noted
Sunday: 1-1:45 p.m.; scrimmage: 2 p.m.
Monday: 9 a.m.-noon
Tuesday: 11-11:45 a.m; Panthers at Carolina, 7
Thursday: vs. Bruins at Rochester, N.Y., 7
Sept. 25: at Boston, 7
Sept. 27: at Montreal, 7:30
Sept. 29: vs. Carolina (BankAtlantic Center), 7:30
Oct. 1: vs. Tampa Bay (BankAtlantic Center), 7:30
Oct. 2: at Tampa Bay, 7:30
Oct. 10: Regular season opener at Edmonton, 8 p.m.