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57 posts from November 2011

November 11, 2011

EXTRA-SPECIAL BONUS Panthers Notebook from Winnipeg: Cats Weather the Storm ... Versteeg Wants to Score Goals, Not Fight ... Dmitry Kulikov Keeps Streak Going

Logo1BY KIRK PENTON, Special to the Miami Herald

WINNIPEG -- The Jets awoke from their slumber at the start of the third period on Thursday night.The Jets scored twice to cut the Panthers lead to 4-2, and the momentum had clearly swung in the home team’s favour.

It had all the makings of a collapse, but the Panthers didn’t let that happen and cruised to a 5-2 victory on the strength of Kris Versteeg’s hat-trick.

Being able to weather Winnipeg’s third period storm was perhaps the most satisfying development for Florida on Thursday night.

“Sometimes it’s tough when you get up 4-0,” defenceman Brian Campbell said. “You want to keep that lead, and you want to play safe. You’re on the road, and you wanna get those two points and get out. For us, playing safe doesn’t seem to be working for our team. It gets us on our heels, and obviously they were applying more pressure on us, taking some more chances.

“It’s a tough situation. We’re trying to get better at it. I don’t think we’re there yet, but slowly, hopefully, we can get there.”

The Panthers got out-shot 17-5 in the third period, but goaltender Jose Theodore, who got some help from his posts, was able to keep the Jets at bay for the frame’s final 14 minutes.

“We feel as a group that we let a few (games) get away,” defenceman Ed Jovanovski said. “I think we learned as a team how to finish games off.”

The Panthers host the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at 5 p.m. at BankAtlantic Center.


Versteeg notched his first hat-trick since his days as a junior in the Western Hockey League, and he now has eight goals in just 15 games.

His career high is 22, which he set with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008-09.

The 25-year-old was quick to credit his linemates for his offensive outburst, but head coach Kevin Dineen believes Versteeg is simply showing off his talents.

“He’s opportunistic, and opportunity presents itself in different ways,” Dineen said. “What he’s done is he’s realized that he’s been given a quality opportunity on this team that he may not have seen in Toronto or he may not have seen when he was in Chicago with those incredible offensive players that those teams have.

“When he’s getting those high-end roles he’s really decided to take advantage of it. And it hasn’t just been one game. He’s been really consistent and a good player for us all year.”


With friends like Dustin Byfuglien, who needs enemies?

At least that’s what Versteeg was thinking when the Jets defenceman hauled him down as he headed for Winnipeg’s empty net late in the third period on Thursday night.

It didn’t matter, though, as Versteeg found a way to slide the puck in the net after getting taken to the ice.

“I was almost hoping Buf would let me go,” Versteeg said with a chuckle. “He’s a good friend, but he didn’t and it was a fortunate bounce.”


Panthers netminder Jose Theodore has been around a while, so he realizes how crucial every single point is.

Florida entered Friday night’s NHL action as the Southeast Division leader with an 8-4-3 record.

“You need to get the points, especially early on,” said Theodore, who stopped 25 shots against the Jets. “The standings are going to get really tight. Early in the season you need the points.“We saw in previous seasons how tight it gets toward the end, so these points are huge.”


The Panthers were 2-for-5 on the power play against the Jets, bringing their success rate to 24.1%.

That is the fifth best mark in the league.

“It’s 15 games into it, so I don’t like to get too carried away with it, but we just worked on it,” Campbell said. “We’ve talked a lot as individuals and as groupings, and we know where everybody is on the ice and we know what our responsibilities are and how we want to generate offence. And we’ve worked hard.”


Defenceman Dmitry Kulikov has at least one assist in five consecutive games, which is tied for the longest such streak in the NHL this season.

Florida Panthers: Welcome to Pembroke Pines ... Cats to hold Saturday Practice down South

PinessignFor the first time since the team was forced to relocate because of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, the Panthers will practice at the Pines Ice Arena on Saturday morning.

The Panthers used Pines as a temporary home after their training facility in Coral Springs suffered heavy damage in the storm.

This time, the Panthers just want to spread the hockey love around. 

Pinesice“I remember as a kid that when a professional team practiced at your rink, that was pretty cool,'' Dineen said. “We're trying to build the game from our youth. You see what goes on at the [Coral Springs] Iceplex and that’s something we’re very proud of as an organization.

"We want to extend our tentacles and try to keep growing the game on the local level. 

“If we can get one young guy who decides to put on the skates and play and enjoy the game of hockey, Pinesmaybe we’ll have a fan down the line. A day at another rink is a good way to expose our quality players to the South Florida community.” 

Dineen said the team will take the ice at 10:30 a.m. Admission is free.

Florida Panthers Enjoying Rare -- and VERY Early -- View from the Top ... Scottie Upshall OUT v Flyers on Sunday

StandingsAfter a thrilling win in chilly Winnipeg the night before, Panthers winger Jack Skille tweeted how nice it was to be back in sunny South Florida. 

Waking up in first place isn't too bad either.

By beating the Jets 5-2 on Thursday night, the Panthers jumped Washington and Tampa Bay to take over first place in the Southeast Division. With Washington playing twice this weekend and the Lightning going on Saturday, Florida's view from the top may be short lived indeed. 

Yet for a team that has finished in last in the division the past two seasons – and were worst in the entire conference last season – it's nice to visit the penthouse every once in a while. 

The Panthers came into Friday holding the third spot in the Eastern Conference. It should be noted that Florida has 67 games remaining.

“It's a little too early in the season to be watching the standings,'' coach Kevin Dineen understated. “We're just going about our business. We're not looking too far ahead. But it is nice to see that our hard work is paying off.''

The Panthers, off to their best start since 1996, have played nine of their 15 games this season away from South Florida.

Florida has found success on the road so far, its six wins is tops in the east and tied for the NHL lead. Florida won two of three on its previous road trip before sweeping Toronto and Winnipeg this week. The Panthers outscored those two opponents 10-3.

“Before the season, we talked about how you can identify the character of a team on how they play on the road,'' Dineen said. “We take a lot of pride in playing solid hockey on road. Ownership has given us leeway to do anything schedule-wise we feel we need to get peak performance. The players appreciate that. It's important for us to now reciprocate at home.''

The Panthers' two home wins are tied for fewest in the league. Florida plays host to Philadelphia on Sunday before heading out on the road for two more at Dallas and St. Louis. 

-- Scottie Upshall suffered an undisclosed injury during the first period of Thursday's game and will miss Sunday's game. Dineen said injured winger Mikael Samuelsson likely isn't ready to play yet so Florida will call up a forward from its AHL affiliate in San Antonio. 

“He got caught in an awkward position, he's not even sure he got hit,'' Dineen said.

Clevel-- Goalie Jacob Markstrom gave up four goals on Thursday night as he made his season debut with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL. Markstrom, 21, only gave up that many goals once in five appearances for the Panthers before being sent to the minors on Monday.

The host Lake Erie Monsters scored four goals on 28 shots against Markstrom in a 5-2 win at Quicken Loans Arena. 

Panthers prospects Angelo Esposito and Colby Robak scored for the Rampage. 


#FlaPanthers -- yes, the Panthers -- Atop the Southeast Division after Rolling Winnipeg 5-2 ... Versteeg Gets First Hat Trick

Heck of a roadie for the Panthers.

I was there for the blowout in Toronto; was in Sunrise watching Thursday's romp in Winnipeg.

Here's the story from Mannitoba:

Cats win big -- lead the division

November 09, 2011

Panthers Jack Skille Hopes to Roll After Big Game in T.O. ... Cats off to Winnipeg for First Game Since 1996 ... Jets Gameday on Thursday

SkilleleafsTORONTO – After another frustrating offensive performance last week, Panthers winger Jack Skille joked that it may just take him 100 shots on goal to finally put one through.

“Maybe,'' he said with a scowl, “it'll be 150.''

Skille finally broke through in Florida's 5-1 win over the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, giving the Panthers the initial lead in the opening period. And his goal, one in which he undressed Toronto defenseman Luke Schenn, came on shot No. 33 of the season. 

“Sometimes that happens, but for me, it seems to happen more often than not,'' Skille said. “I think I've learned through my career that you can't think about it, just keep pressing along and eventually you'll get that first one. It took me 18 games last season. I don't know why that happens. Hopefully this is a boost to the confidence. Hey, I can score again.''

The Panthers haven't been too concerned with Skille's offensive production as he has been strong along the boards and in the corners. Playing alongside center Marcel Goc and newcomer Marco Sturm, Skille brings a mix of speed and size to that line – something general manager Dale Tallon felt the Panthers needed when he traded Michael Frolik to Chicago for Skille last February. 

Tallon originally drafted Skille while with the Blackhawks and says he's been generally pleased with Skille's play. 

“I think he's been really solid. He's getting better and is off to a good start,'' Tallon said. “I'm real happy with his development. He has a big body, can skate and has a big shot. He just needs to keep things simple. We're looking for what we saw [Tuesday] on a nightly basis, not just once in a while or every other night. It was good to see him score. He's had some great chances. Sometimes those goals come when you least expect them. It's good to get that off the back.''

Skille came to the Panthers under strange circumstances, traded to Florida a few weeks before the trade deadline flurries. At the time, the Panthers were a team in flux; they weren't too far out of the playoff race just yet, although a few weeks later, the salary dump was on and the Panthers faded fast. 

One of only a handful of players left from that 'try out' period, Skille said the black cloud that hovered over the Panthers at the end of last season has moved somewhere else. With new faces and new found success, hockey is fun again. 

“It was a tough environment,'' Skille said. “We were losing consistently at the end and it was tough. There was no buzz. It was hard to be around. Now, obviously, we have a lot of talent and a lot of veterans. There's a lot of chatter, a lot of positivity.''


The Panthers will make their first visit to Winnipeg since March 7, 1996; the original Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix following the 1995-96 season but have since returned. The former Atlanta Thrashers have a new arena and strong support in the inaugural season of their second coming. 

“It's unfortunate Atlanta left, but going back to [Winnipeg] has been good,'' said defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who along with Jose Theodore are the only current Panthers to have played an NHL game in Winnipeg. Jovanovski was with the Panthers for that game in 1996 

“I'm sure the atmosphere is going to be great, there will be a lot of buzz. It's great to have the NHL back in Winnipeg, the fans there are great. You could just see the excitement about this team all summer.''

-- The Panthers got plenty of secondary scoring in Tuesday's win, with goals coming from everywhere but the top line.

The trio of Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg came into the game accounting for almost 40 percent of Florida's points. On Tuesday, however, that trio was shut out. 


When, Where: 8:30 p.m.; MTS Center, Winnipeg

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Jets/Thrashers lead 38-26-5

The game: The Jets are coming off a decent showing on the road, going 3-2-2 in a seven-game trip that started in Tampa and ended in Buffalo. Winnipeg battled back to tie the Panthers in the second game of that trip and ended up winning in a shootout on Halloween. The Panthers are off to the third-best start in franchise history with 17 points. Florida is 4-1-3 in its past eight games. Jose Theodore made 38 saves in Tuesday's 5-1 win at Toronto and is expected to make his third straight start. 


November 08, 2011

Florida Panthers Notebook: Robb Tallas Newest U.S. Citizen ... Mikael Samuelsson Skates in Coral Springs


Goalie coach Robb Tallas didn't fly with the team to Canada on Monday but instead met the team before Tuesday's game.

Tallas had a good reason: He became a citizen of the United States on Tuesday morning in Oakland Park.

TallasTallas, a native of Vancouver who lives in Coral Springs, said the process was long but “completely worth it.'' Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, a native of Quebec, has been a U.S. Citizen since 1993.

"Hello there, fellow American,'' Tallas said to an unnamed Miami Herald reporter in the Toronto press box on Tuesday. "Nice to join you.'' 

-- Injured winger Mikael Samuelsson didn't travel with the Panthers to Canada this week as he continues his rehabilitation after having complications from a sports hernia surgery he underwent last May.

Samuelsson came to the Panthers in the David Booth trade on Oct. 22 but has yet to play. Samuelsson skated for the first time since joining the Panthers on Tuesday in Coral Springs. 


Panthers Continue Winning Ways in Toronto, Stuff Leafs 5-1 ... Cats Top Line Shut Out, Others (Skille, Sturm, etc.) Carry Load ... Theodore Makes 38 Saves

CarltonTORONTO – This was one three goal lead the Panthers weren't about to give up.

Despite being outplayed for almost the entire second period, the Panthers grabbed a pair of opportunistic goals before adding two more in the third to roll past the host Maple Leafs 5-1 at Air Canada Center on Tuesday.

Unlike Sunday against the Lightning, it took Florida a while to grab a 3-0 lead. And, also unlike Sunday, the Panthers didn't blow said lead. Tampa Bay came back from its deficit to win 4-3 in a shootout in Sunrise after trailing 3-0 at the first intermission. On Tuesday, the Panthers didn't go up 3-0 until late in the second. 

Florida had lost three straight, all in a shootout, to tie an NHL record. The Panthers have gone 4-1-3 in their past eight games and have won five of eight away from Sunrise this season. 

“It's nice when you don't have to sweat,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “We were all thinking about the 3-0 lead because we were there before. We did a good job with it.''

The Panthers now have 17 points and are off to their best start through 14 games since getting 22 points to start the 1996-97 campaign. Florida's current start ranks third all-time behind the 20 points earned in 1995 and 22 the following season.

Both of those teams made the playoffs. The Panthers came into Tuesday holding the eighth and final postseason spot in the east – with quite a few more games remaining. 

Toronto, meanwhile, came into the night holding the top slot in the east but has now been outscored 12-1 in its past two losses. The Panthers have won nine of their past 13 in Toronto.

“We just need to keep this rolling,'' Kris Versteeg said. “We've had some games that could have knocked us down, but we keep bouncing back. We pick ourselves up pretty darned fast.''

Florida took the initial lead midway through the opening period when Jack Skille found a puck he lost down low and worked his way around goalie Jonas Gustavsson for his first goal of the season.

Toronto came out buzzing in the second and ended up outshooting the Panthers 18-7. Only Florida converted on consecutive shots, getting goals from Marco Sturm (his first as a member of the Panthers) and Tomas Kopecky (his third) a mere 19 seconds apart. Gustavsson, who played well in relief of Ben Scrivens in Saturday's 7-0 loss to the Bruins, promptly found his way to the bench.

Scrivens didn't face a shot the remainder of the second, but Sean Bergenheim made it 4-0 when he scored on Florida's next offering 2:32 into the third. 

Jose Theodore stopped the first 30 shots he faced, but the Leafs finally got on the board at the 3:30 mark of the third when Phil Kessel got his league-leading 11th of the season. Shawn Matthias scored Florida's final goal of the night with 3:25 left.

“We came out hard and showed we were prepared to play,'' said Theodore, who was named first star after making 38 saves. “The last game was a tough one, but we have the character to forget about tough situations.''

-- Tomas Fleischmann's seven game point streak (four goals, nine points) came to an end Tuesday,

Florida's top line failed to register a point against the Leafs. 

November 07, 2011

Florida Panthers Send Jacob Markstrom to AHL San Antonio, Recall Scott Clemmensen

Markstrom (2)Jacob Markstrom's NHL career was put on the fast-track in September. Florida's so-called 'Goalie of the Future' was slated to start the season in the minors.

With Scott Clemmensen needing minor knee surgery, the 21-year-old instead stayed with the Panthers as Jose Theodore's backup.

Markstrom played so well, it was thought he may never find his way to the minors.

Well, on Monday, he did.

With Clemmensen's knee healed, Markstrom lost out on the numbers game and was assigned to Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Markstrom's play warranted a spot on the Panthers roster, although general manager Dale Tallon didn't want to keep three goalies and Clemmensen is a veteran making $1.5 million through the end of this season.

The next time Markstrom plays for the Panthers, Tallon says, it's probably for keeps.

"When Jacob comes back,'' Tallon said, “he'll probably be back forever, as far as knowing that he has the ability to play."

Clemmensen will join the Panthers in Toronto and could play on this abbreviated road trip that sees the Panthers play the Maple Leafs Tuesday and in Winnipeg on Thursday. On Saturday, Clemmensen saw game action for the first time since the preseason and stopped 32 of 33 shots to help end San Antonio's four game losing streak. 

Markstrom, meanwhile, went 2-2-1 with a 2.05 GAA and made 94 percent of his saves. His biggest moment came on Oct. 24 when he stopped 40 of 41 shots as the Panthers won 2-1 at Montreal.

On Oct. 18, Markstrom made his first career NHL start at Washington, stopping 29 of 31 shots in a 3-0 loss. A few days later, he got his first NHL win in relief of Theodore, stopping all 18 shots faced in the third period. 

“He showed his true worth in training camp, showed his true worth in the games he played,'' Tallon said. “We have a bright prospect with a great future ahead. That's what we're all about. [Goalie] is a position where you can lose your confidence in a hurry then never bounce back. We're being cautious here and conservative in his development"

With Tyler Plante demoted to Florida's ECHL team in Cincinnati, Markstrom becomes San Antonio's starting goalie with Brian Foster backing up.

Even had Markstrom stayed, he wouldn't get the playing time he'll now get with the Rampage. And that's important.

Markstrom's first professional season was cut short last year as he suffered a knee injury in February. In San Antonio, he'll get big minutes. His Rampage debut will likely come Thursday in Cleveland against the Lake Erie Monsters at Quicken Loans Arena. 

"It's based on long term, it's based on where we're headed and based on numbers," Tallon told the South Florida media on a conference call Monday morning. “We can't have him sitting around playing once every two weeks. We want him playing a lot. We know he can play and we know where we're headed with him. .-.-. We want Jacob to be a number one. He's got to play number one minutes. That's where we're at.''

The thought of Markstrom heading to the minors has been a reality since Clemmensen joined the Panthers for Monday's morning skate. It was Clemmensen's first practice with his teammates since training camp and although the Panthers could move the 34-year-old, they had few suitors until Clemmensen actually plays. 

“I came off a long summer, there were a lot of changes here and excitement was building,'' Clemmensen said Wednesday after he learned he was off to Texas for a brief rehabilitation assignment. 

“And then a week into training camp I get hurt. My season has been delayed by about five weeks so I'm excited to get it going. I want to be a part of this thing. I need some game time and see some game situations.'' 

Markstrom started Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Blackhawks, stopping 31 of 33 shots. He also stopped two of three shots in the shootout with Patrick Kane winning the game for Chicago on the third shot of the session. 

News of Markstrom's possible – and then official – move to the AHL was met with skepicism by many fans on various social media outlets. 

Markstrom himself went to Twitter to express his desire to keep up his strong play with the Rampage. 
“I'm heading out to San Antonio,'' Markstrom wrote, “and can't wait to see all the boys and start."

Although Markstrom obviously wanted to stay with the Panthers – “who wouldn't?'' Tallon said – he was upbeat after meeting with Tallon and being given the news. Goalie coach Robb Tallas said Markstrom knew this day was coming. After all, Tallon said, had Clemmensen not gotten hurt in the first place, “he would have been there six weeks ago.''

Tallon, as usual, did not let popular opinion cloud his decision. The Panthers have a number of top prospects in the system and Tallon doesn't want them thrown into the fire too quickly. Defenseman Erik Gudbranson, the third overall pick in 2010, played with his junior team last season despite a strong training camp. Forward Jonathan Huberdeau, third overall in 2011, was sent back despite leading the Panthers with three goals this past preseason.

"This isn't a popularity contest," Tallon said. "This is about producing players for the long term. We want this guy to be our goalie of the future. We want to make sure he's handled right. We want him to be ready to handle the load at the right time. With him and Gudbranson and Huberdeau, we 're going to be cautious with them all. We want to be sure they're ready and that we don't ruin them. The fans should look and see how bright our future looks."


When, Where: 7 p.m.; Air Canada Center, Toronto

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Toronto leads 29-20-7

The game: The Maple Leafs looked much improved over previous versions as they have taken 19 of their first 28 available points as they vie for their first playoff spot since 2004. Toronto and Florida are the only teams in the NHL to not make the playoffs since the lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season. Florida has lost three straight – all in shootouts – but is 3-1-3 in its past seven. 

November 06, 2011

Panthers Goalie Decision to Come: Jacob Markstrom Almost Certainly Headed to San Antonio

Scott Clemmensen is expected to be recalled from the Panthers minor league affiliate in San Antonio on Monday after giving up just one late goal off 33 shots in a 6-1 victory over the Toronto Marlies on Saturday night.

Clemmensen wanted to play in the Rampage's game Sunday as well but was told by the Panthers head athletic trainer not to.

With Clemmensen coming back, rookie Jacob Markstrom is expected to be sent to the minors – despite his success on the NHL level this season.

Markstrom is in the second year of his entry level contract and can be sent to the minors without having to pass through waivers; Clemmensen is being paid his NHL contract ($1.5 million) in the minors.

Florida could carry three goalies but will not do so.

Clemmensen was vying for the starting job before having knee surgery during training camp. Clemmensen appeared in one preseason game before getting hurt; Saturday's appearance in San Antonio was his first game experience since surgery. He'll start back by backing up Theodore.

“I liked my goaltender [Sunday], I thought he did a good job,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “[Theodore] is our starter and has done a good job.''



Lightning Rally from 3-0 Hole to Beat Panthers 4-3 in Shootout ... Cats Don't Like Shootouts, Obviously

Tampa Bay bringing goalie Dwayne Roloson into Sunday's game with 4:39 left in the first period smacked of desperation.

And it was.

Starter Mathieu Garon had surrendered three goals on 12 shots and the Panthers were well on their way to another win over the Lightning.

Things don't always end up the way they start for the Panthers, however.

Despite the nice early lead, the Panthers failed to get anything past the 42-year-old Roloson and that allowed the Lightning to rally for a 4-3 shootout victory at BankAtlantic Center. Florida had won six of eight against Tampa Bay before Sunday's loss.

“We have to step on teams when we have the chance,'' defenseman Ed Jovanovski lamented. “We need to find that next goal, put teams away. It's definitely a bitter pill to swallow.''

The Panthers have lost three straight -- all in a shootout. The Panthers have struggled in the shootout ever since that format was brought to decide tie games after 65 minutes in 2005.

This stretch, however, has been pretty bad even by Florida standards. 

Not only have the Panthers lost to Winnipeg, Chicago and Tampa Bay, but they haven't even scored in the shootout round. The Panthers went 0-for-4 on Sunday – Teddy Purcell scored in Round 4 for the Bolts – and are 0-for-9 through the past three.

Silver lining? The Panthers have gone 3-1-3 in their past seven, getting nine of the available 14 points. Of course, Florida has lost points with two divisional rivals (Winnipeg and Tampa Bay) benefiting from scraps left on the table.

“It turned into the wild west at the end, and the way it was going, didn't look like it was going to a shootout,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “It's a little of the same-old story for our fanbase.''

Sunday started well enough, with the Panthers getting their eighth power play goal in three games against Tampa Bay this season when Brian Campbell zipped one through from the slot 1:49 into the game.

Later in the period, Jack Skille came out of the penalty box, picked off a puck and drove the ice, feeding Tomas Kopecky for Florida's second goal. With 4:39 left, Mike Santorelli walked in on Garon and went five hole for the 3-0 lead.

Garon held Florida to two goals in the Panthers 3-2 shootout win (their only one this season) on Oct. 15. Two nights later, Roloson gave up seven to the Panthers as Florida tied a franchise record with five power play goals in a 7-4 win. Roloson was terrific on Sunday, however, as he reversed course by stopping all 29 shots faced – not including four in the shootout from Kris Versteeg, Marcel Goc, Stephen Weiss and Sean Bergenheim.

Roloson's play gave the Lightning the chance to steal a point or two. With 3:40 left in the second, Ryan Malone scored on a power play goal for Tampa Bay's first goal. Just 86 seconds and two shots later, Steven Stamkos made it 3-2 when scored from in front.
The Lightning tied it at 8:11 of the third when Teddy Purcell poked a loose puck through.

Both teams had plenty of chances to break the stalemate, with Weiss breaking free in the final seconds of overtime and having a great shot stopped.

The shootout came down to two players going against their former teams.

Dominic Moore, who played in Florida for 48 games two seasons ago, beat Jose Theodore (34 saves) to give the Lightning the advantage. Bergenheim, who was a postseason hero for Tampa Bay last summer, was stopped on his offering.

“I had a great chance, just have to put it in,'' Weiss said. “It's not so much [Roloson] as it was us not keeping our foot on the pedal. He made some saves to keep them in it, but this falls on us.''


November 04, 2011

Cooper City Gets Biggest Win in 40 Years, Upsets Aquinas 21-16

CchsPaul Megna stood on the sideline, his right arm cradling a football he found on the field.

The long-time athletic director of Cooper City High said he didn't know what he was going to do with it, but he knew it wasn't going anywhere fast.

A graduate of Cooper City, Megna knew he just witnessed something special and that football wasn't leaving his sight.

For the first time in school history, the Cowboys upset a nationally ranked team, beating host St. Thomas Aquinas 21-16 to claim the District 15-7A title. The district win is just Cooper City's second in school history – and second straight. In the 40-year history of the program, no victory has been bigger than Friday's come-from-behind win on Aquinas turf.

Last year, the Raiders ended Cooper City's season with a 49-7 victory in the regional playoffs.

“This just took our program to the next level,'' Megna said as Cooper City's players continued their celebration. “We have kids who believe in our coach and will do anything for him. I'm loving life right now.''

Aquinas hadn't lost a home game in years before Miramar knocked off the Raiders last month. Before the Patriots did it, the last visiting coach to win at Aquinas was Deerfield Beach's Art Taylor. Now in his second year at Cooper City, Taylor obviously has a knack for beating the Raiders.

“These kids are such fighters. No one believe this except for us,'' Taylor said. “These kids, man, we have starters out but we play hard. What do you say about a game like this?''

Aquinas (7-2) hasn't lost a district title in 15 years, not since losing to Piper in 1996. But on Friday, the Raiders watched the Cowboys (9-0) score 14 points in the third quarter to seize control of the game.

Cooper City trailed 3-0 early and were about to go down six when an Aquinas field goal was blocked. Camden Krohn casually picked up the ball at the 1 and sprinted up field, scoring from 99 yards out to give the Cowboys what would be a short-lived 7-3 lead with 7:50 left in the second. Aquinas led 10-7 at the half after outgaining the Cowboys by 100 yards.

Despite not having Krohn for the start of the second half (he said his heart rate was escalated after the touchdown), Cooper City was able to keep the Raiders at bay. Midway through the third, Aquinas quarterback Max Lescano was intercepted by Tyson Burch at the 33. The Cooper City linebacker rambled to the 3, and Krohn punched it in one play later after an Aquinas penalty.

“This proves everyone wrong. Kids at our school, people around the county, everyone,'' Krohn said. “We earned some respect. We made the big plays and our defense played phenomenal. That's one of the great teams in the nation and we stopped them. We'll see them again, but we stopped them.''

Aquinas benched Lescano in favor of John O'Korn, and that move didn't work out initially as the junior fumbled under pressure on his second snap. Jordan Mornay picked up the loose ball and sprinted into the end zone to give the Cowboys a 21-10 lead.

O'Korn gave the Raiders a chance with a late drive that culminated in a 8-yard pass to Mark Barr with 2:31 left. Cooper City's James Zawoyski recovered the onside kick, but the Raiders used their three timeouts and got the ball back with 2:03 left. O'Korn's final pass on 4th-and-15 was incomplete with 22 seconds left and the celebration was on.

The game ended ugly as a skirmish broke out with some fans who jumped onto the field escorted out by Fort Lauderdale Police as players from both sides jawed at each other and had to be separated. Taylor and Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo hugged at the 50 and the two teams ended up lining up and shaking hands.

#FlaPanthers Looking for Better Starts

How does one figure out the Panthers these days?

When the team was able to score goals early, they struggled to hold the lead. These days, the Panthers are falling behind only to storm back at the end.

Florida hasn’t scored in the first period in its past three games, falling behind 1-0 on Saturday at Buffalo, 2-0 against Winnipeg on Monday and 2-0 Thursday against Chicago.

The big positive: In each of those instances, the Panthers have come back to tie or take the lead in those games. And had it not been for a late goal surrendered in Ottawa, Florida would have taken points in six straight games going into Sunday’s game against the visiting Lightning.

“We have to flip things around and use that gameplan early on,’’ said defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who tipped in a shot from Dmitry Kulikov to tie Thursday’s game with 2:04 left. “Coaches stress what we need to do every game and it’s laid right out in front of us. For some reason we keep getting off to these slow starts. It will eventually catch up to you. You can’t keep spotting teams goals. Hopefully teams are chasing us next time out.’’

Tomas Fleischmann is, like Jovanovski, new to the Panthers. Fleischmann, who scored two goals Monday to bring Florida back from a third period deficit against the Jets, thinks the Panthers are still trying to feel themselves out. That makes it tougher for the team to come out and dictate its own style of play instead of reacting to what the other team does.

In the past three games, at least, the Panthers looked pretty good playing desperate hockey once falling behind.

“It would be nice to have the lead but it hasn’t happened for us the past few games,’’ Fleischmann said. “We are a new team and sometimes you have to find your structure. I think that’s hurting us. We’re waiting to see what the other team will do and it should be us pushing the flow of the game. We have a good team and we know we can come back. We just need to change our minds and decide that we’re going to be the ones taking the lead.’’

Coach Kevin Dineen joked after Thursday’s game that the stress of these games is leading him to the Hair Club for Men. He wouldn’t mind watching his team take control from the start.

“We have kind of proven to ourselves that no lead is insurmountable,’’ Dineen said. “But, you don’t want to be playing with that bullet all the time. We need some consistency in our play, go throughout the game instead of being in desperation mode like we’ve been in late in games.’’

() Matt Bradley left Thursday’s game after getting into a quick fight with Chicago’s Jamal Mayers. Dineen said Bradley wasn’t benched – “he did a good job and didn’t have much choice” – but taken out of the game for medical precaution.

Bradley didn’t participate in Friday’s optional skate, but Dineen said he would play Sunday against the Lightning.
() Dineen said Erik Gudbranson was a healthy scratch on Thursday because he felt the 19-year-old defenseman was “ready for a break” after playing in each of Florida’s first 11 games. Gudbranson admitted stepping back and watching the game from the press box was a good perspective, admitting that he has been pressing lately.

“He’s seen a lot of hockey,’’ Dineen said. “Everything is so new to him and he has so much on his plate, I thought it was good for him to step back and watch the game from a new perspective.’’

() The Panthers will hold an open practice at the Coral Springs Iceplex on Saturday at 10 a.m. with a free goalie clinic featuring Jacob Markstrom and coach Robb Tallas beginning at noon as part of the national ‘Try Hockey for Free’ initiative. For more information, call the Iceplex at (954) 341-9956.

November 03, 2011

Florida Panthers Notebook: Blackhawks, Florida Old Trading Partners ... Erik Gudbranson 'Healthy Scratch' for First Time. Ever.

OleszFormer Panthers winger Rostislav Olesz hasn't found much playing time with the Blackhawks.

Olesz, the seventh overall pick of the 2004 draft by Mike Keenan, was traded to Chicago in June for defenseman Brian Campbell. 

Olesz was scratched for Thursday's game, his eighth straight benching and ninth in the past 11 games. Campbell, meanwhile, leads all Panthers in ice time and came into the game tied for the team lead in points with 11. 

Michael Frolik, traded for Jack Skille in February, has fared much better for Chicago as he came into the game with two goals and six points through the first 11 games. 

-- Defenseman Erik Gudbranson was a healthy scratch for the first time in his hockey career on Thursday as Keaton Ellerby was back in the lineup for the first time since Oct. 20. 

GudsGudbranson actually missed some games in the juniors last year, but that was a benching after getting into a verbal altercation with his coach.

“I'm 19, I knew this was going to happen eventually,'' said Gudbranson, the third overall pick of the 2010 draft.

“Ellerby is playing well. I'm forcing things too much. [Dineen] told me to use this as a learning experience and that's what I'm doing.''

Jacob Markstrom Stands Tall Again, But Panthers lose to Blackhawks 3-2 in SO ... Markstrom to follow Clemmensen to San Anton?

If Jacob Markstrom needed to state his case whether he deserves to stay with the Panthers after this week, another strong performance on Thursday night against the Blackhawks did just that. 

Markstrom made 31 saves – including six in overtime – although he couldn't stop Patrick Kane on Chicago's third shot in the shootout as the Blackhawks left BankAtlantic Center with a 3-2 win.

The Panthers have lost their past two, although picked up points in each by losing in the shootout. 

“He's going to be one hell of a goalie,'' Kris Versteeg said afterward. “He's just going to keep getting better. He's been playing great for us.''

Markstrom could be the odd man out of the Panthers goaltending situation when Scott Clemmensen returns from a rehab assignment as early as Monday in Toronto.

Florida could carry three goalies, trade one or send Markstrom to San Antonio of the AHL – where he will get plenty of starts while the Panthers front office figures everything out.

The Panthers have said they are looking long term when it comes to Markstrom so it would not be surprising if he's starting in the minors next week.

Clemmensen left for San Antonio on Thursday afternoon and will play Saturday and backup Brian Foster on Sunday. If Clemmensen looks strong, he could be quickly recalled as the Rampage don't play again until the following weekend. Clemmensen doesn't know what the future holds either.

“I'm going down with the best intentions, to get my game in order,'' said Clemmensen, who had meniscus surgery on his right knee in September. “The plan is for me to join [the Panthers] soon. But I, of all people, know that one thing there is for sure in this business is that anything can happen. You never know.''

If this is indeed the last time the Panthers see Markstrom in net for a while, he made things memorable. Markstrom looked as strong Thursday as he did last week in Montreal when he made 40 saves and beat the Canadiens 2-1. 

The Blackhawks led 2-0 as Jonathan Toews knocked a loose puck into the net with his skate 4:04 into the game and Marian Hossa scored off a Patrick Kane pass about the same time in the second. 

Florida, which looked slow in the early goings of the second, came hard in the second half of the period and put some real heat on second-year goalie Corey Crawford.

Stephen Weiss cut Florida's deficit in half with 1:41 left in the second period when he charged in on Crawford and followed his own blocked shot by knocking the puck into the net. 

The Panthers kept the play in the Chicago end for much of the final 30 minutes as they outshot Chicago 14-5 in the third.

With 2:10 left, Weiss had a shot blocked and Chicago failed to clear the puck as Dmitry Kulikov made a great play to save it. Kulikov then unleashed a shot from the blue line, Ed Jovanovski deflecting it from in front of the net past Crawford to tie the score and help force overtime.

“We completely outplayed them in the last three-quarters of the game,'' Versteeg said. “It was a good comeback but their goalie won them the game, give him props. But we're happy with the way we played. A loss is a loss, but we got the point. The way we played, we could have won by a few goals. That's the way the bounces go.''

Said Jovanovski: “It was nice, if you look at the shot clock, we had a lot of opportunities. It was good to force overtime and take our chances in the shootout. It would have been nice to get the extra point, but one is better than nothing after being down 2-0. We're a real resilient bunch. Hopefully we can build off this.''


Clemmensen took off to San Antonio after Thursday's morning skate and will start for the AHL Rampage Saturday night against the Toronto Marlies. 

For Clemmensen, just getting back into the game is fine with him. Clemmensen had surgery to repair the mineskus in his right knee in the early going of training camp. He practiced with the Panthers for the first time on Monday. 

“I came off a long summer, there were a lot of changes here and excitement was building,'' Clemmensen said. “And then a week into training camp I get hurt. My season has been delayed by about five weeks so I'm excited to get it going. I want to be a part of this thing. I need some game time and see some game situations.''



November 02, 2011

Panthers Jason Garrison = The Man ... From Undrafted to NHL Leader in Goals by D-man ... Chicago Comes to Town

GarrisonJason Garrison is the epitome of a late bloomer.

And boy, has the Panthers hulking defenseman blossomed.

“He's got more muscles than I've ever seen,'' Brian Campbell said, laughing. “I'm like, whoa!''

Garrison, who turns 27 on Nov. 13, wasn't drafted as a junior player in western Canada. “I never even thought of being drafted,'' Garrison said. “I wasn't that good.''

A tall, skinny defenseman with a decent shot, Garrison found his way to the University of Minnesota-Duluth where his game – and his physical presence – evolved. Garrison started to fill out. Scouts took notice.

After three years of playing for the Bulldogs, Garrison decided to turn pro. Despite not being drafted, despite having doubts he would ever make it to the NHL, Garrison was on his way. Florida general manager Jacques Martin heard about Garrison from the Panthers scouts. Martin offered a two-year deal and Garrison, despite being courted by other teams, saw opportunity with the Panthers and took it.

On Oct. 25, 2008, Garrison made his NHL debut with the Panthers in St. Louis. He wouldn't become a full-time NHL player for another year, but Garrison had fulfilled a dream many said he wouldn't.

“It just goes to show you that if you want something bad enough,'' Garrison said, “you can go get it.''

And if there are hockey players out there today who have heard they can't make it to the show one day because they are too small, too skinny, just not good enough, well, they can look at Garrison and know it can be done.

“I keep my head down and try to earn the respect of my teammates by doing that and working hard,'' said Garrison, who today has more goals than any other defenseman in the entire NHL.

“I have found that working hard is probably the best way for me to go about my game. That hasn't changed over the years. I'm definitely humble for the position I'm in. When you work hard to get here, and it's not quite handed to you, you respect every little chance you get more. I think that's what's going on. I'm happy to be part of this team.''

Garrison has shown that dreams still come true in the NHL, although it didn't come from chance. Garrison is a meticulous worker who uses previous snubs as motivational fuel both on the ice and in the weight room.

“People don't see how he's always here, always preparing. He hasn't been in the league that long, so he still has a lot to learn. And he has a lot of upside,'' said Campbell, Garrison's defensive partner.
“We have formed a nice combo and I think he's been put in a position to succeed. I don't know how much power play he was on last year, but he's playing more this year, getting more responsibility. He's easy to play with. That's the best compliment you can give another defenseman. I like what I see from him.''

Garrison's game has been noticed of late because of his offense, although teammates have often praised his defensive skill.

A good skater, Garrison is rarely out of position and hardly gets hooking or holding penalties called on him despite having plenty of opportunities to do so. In the first 11 games this season, Garrison has been called for just three penalties – two were for boarding and the other was for a hook.

What has set Garrison apart this season isn't his defensive play – but a booming slap shot. Garrison's five goals are highest amongst NHL defensemen and he goes into Thursday's game against Chicago riding a three-game goal streak.

Garrison's five goals this season match his career-high set last season through 73 games. Garrison scored just four goals in his first two seasons in college – and five in his last one.

“He has the big driver,'' Dineen said of Garrison's slap shot. Each goal has come from an average of 50 feet out and all were set up by Campbell. “It seems his teammates realize he's cracking the thing pretty good right now and they're putting it in his wheelhouse. He's doing what he does best. That's hitting the puck hard. The best thing about that shot is its velocity, but also its accuracy. He knows where that thing's going.''

Said Garrison: “I'm just shooting the puck as much as I can. You keep shooting, they'll eventually go in and they're coming in bunches right now.''

An unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, Garrison says he wants to remain with the Panthers. General manager Dale Tallon said Saturday that he has spoken informally with Garrison's agent regarding a new contract, one that should give him a considerable raise from the $700,000 he's making this season.

“I thought Florida was the best fit for me and definitely do not regret my decision to sign here at all,'' Garrison said. “I want to be here.''


When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Chicago leads 13-9-3

The game: This is another reunion game between the two teams as Florida features four players (and GM Dale Tallon) who were with the Blackhawks two seasons ago. The Panthers will have Sean Bergenheim back after missing a few weeks with what is thought to be a groin issue. Scottie Upshall has been dropped to the fourth line and Tim Kennedy was returned to AHL San Antonio. The Hawks have won five of their past seven games after beating Nashville in overtime on Monday.  

November 01, 2011

Florida Panthers Arena to Get Another Name

BACThe Panthers arena is due for another name change after it was announced North Carolina-based BB&T purchased Fort Lauderdale’s BankAtlantic for between $300-316 million.

The naming rights to the BankAtlantic Center were part of the deal.

It appears the BankAtlantic name will cease to exist, with the arena taking on the new name upon completion of the purchase.

This will be the arena’s fourth name since its opening in 1998. The arena is expected to be renamed BB&T Center.

Other names to the center (not counting Broward Civic Arena or The Billboard): National Car Rental Center; Office Depot Center and BankAtlantic Center.

Tomas Fleischmann Gets 'Mojo' Back ... Tomas Kopecky Out for Now

FleischmannTomas Fleischmann says playing hockey these days makes him “feel like a little kid.’’

And it’s the Panthers who are reaping the benefits.

“I basically got my mojo back,’’ he said.

Fleischmann has been one of Florida’s biggest offensive threats of late – save for the surprising and surging Jason Garrison – as he has four goals and three assists in a five-game scoring streak  and is tied for third on the team with 10 points through the first 11 games this season.

On Monday, Fleischmann brought the Panthers back with a pair of third period goals. Had it not been for a controversial late goal by the visiting Jets, Fleischmann’s goals may had been enough to lift Florida to its seventh win to start the season.

“I’m playing to win the games,’’ Fleischmann said. “Playing on the first line, you expect the points from us. This is how I played in junior, the American league. I haven’t played like this all the time, but now I’m up on the first line and it always goes like that. Hopefully it keeps going like this.’’

His start is in direct contrast to the beginning of the 2010-11 season with the Washington Capitals. Fleischmann was expected to be a big part of the Capitals offense last season, but both he and the Caps got off to a slow start. Coach Bruce Boudreau wasn’t a big fan of Fleischmann’s play and his ice time dwindled.

Last Nov. 30, Fleischmann was traded to Colorado. The move west rejuvenated Fleischmann’s game as he scored 21 points in 22 games for the Avs. Then, on Jan. 20, Fleischmann’s season came to an end as blood clots were discovered in both his lungs. Fleischmann had a similar scare the year before when he suffered from deep vein thrombosis.

After missing the last three months of the season, Fleischmann became a free agent and signed a four-year deal with the Panthers.

Florida is confident Fleischmann’s condition is under control as he’s been cleared by numerous medical specialists. Since leaving Washington, Fleischmann has scored 31 points in his past 33 games with the Avs and Panthers.

“These things happen for a reason, that’s what I think,’’ Fleischmann said. “I got stronger in the offseason because I hadn’t played. Those things happen. It’s too bad things worked out like but there’s nothing I can do about it.’’

Fleischmann is enjoying himself with the new-look Panthers and looks right at home playing alongside linemates Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg. Florida’s top line has played together since the final week of training camp and is Florida’s top power play line as well.

The trio has combined for half of Florida’s 28 goals.


Winger Tomas Kopecky left Monday’s game after taking a hit to the knee by Winnipeg’s Zach Bogosian at the end of overtime.  Bogosian was assessed two minutes for kneeing but the Panthers didn’t get the late power play since time expired.

Kopecky missed Tuesday’s practice and could miss Thursday’s reunion game against the Blackhawks. Sean Bergenheim, out for the past two weeks, worked out Tuesday and could take Kopecky’s slot in the lineup.

“He took a nasty hit at the end of the game and he’ll be evaluated on a day-to-day basis,’’ coach Kevin Dineen said.

Garrison, who has three goals in the past three games, also missed Tuesday’s practice but is expected to be back Wednesday.