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73 posts from December 2011

December 31, 2011

Big Win by Florida Panthers Overshadowed by Alleged Racial Slur, Injury to Jose Theodore ... Cats beat Canadien 3-2 as Scott Clemmensen stops 17 of 18

The Florida Panthers go into 2012 atop the Southeast Division this late in a season for the first time in more than a decade.

Yet as good as that sounds, the Panthers were in no mood to celebrate after  Saturday night's 3-2 win over Montreal at BankAtlantic Center. 

And it was all because of a 30 minute span between the end of the first period and the middle of the second.

First, enforcer Krys Barch – brought to Florida in a trade with Dallas last month – was ejected after linesman Darren Gibbs overheard him use a racial slur during a scrum near the Florida net.

Barch's slur, according to an NHL official, was aimed toward Montreal's P.K. Subban, who is black.

“No comment,'' general manager Dale Tallon said as he was heading downstairs during the second intermission. “I don't know what happened yet.''
According to rule 23.7 of the league's official guide, a player can be ejected for various reasons, including spitting on an opponent or spectator and “racial taunts and slurs.''

Panthers general partner Cliff Viner was visibly shaken when told of why Barch was tossed from the game. 

“This is not what the character of this organization is about. Period,'' Viner said. “I'm devastated by that kind of behavior. That is not what we're about as an organization, a team, coaching staff, hockey operations.

"Dale, I'm sure, will be very critical of this. I hope they talk to the team and let them know this is unacceptable. You play hard, you fight hard. But that's not part of any competition.''

Said coach Kevin Dinnen: “We have a broken up player back there. He feels extremely bad that there was an insinuation that something inappropriate was said. Now it's a league matter. Obviously the Florida Panthers and Krys Barch are really shaken up about this.''

Subban told the Montreal media that he didn't hear a slur and that no one else on his team did either. Erik Cole added that he heard something but wasn't sure what. To paraphrase, he said it could have been something related to Subban's parents.

To make things worse, at the 4:41 mark of the second period, goalie Jose Theodore was forced to leave after getting run over by Montreal's Mike Blunden and teammate Dmitry Kulikov. Although Theodore was hit in the head and shoulder after being hit, it appears he suffered a knee or leg injury as he fell awkwardly. 

Dineen said Theodore would be out for some time and Jacob Markstrom would be recalled from AHL San Antonio.

Scott Clemmensen, who was pulled in the opening period of Friday's 4-1 loss to the Rangers after giving up three goals, was put in and stopped 17 of 18 shots faced as Florida rallied from an early 1-0 deficit.

“It was good for us to get a win and get back on the right track,'' Clemmensen said. “Any time you get pulled, you want to get right back in there. I didn't expect it to happen tonight and I sure didn't want it to be because Jose got hurt.''

As has traditionally been the case, the Panthers played a road game at home against the Canadiens as the announced attendance of 20,098 – second largest of the season – was dominated by fans cheering on the northern visitors. 

The Canadiens jumped to a 1-0 lead when Travis Moen snapped a slap shot past Theodore 5:37 into the game. The score stayed that way until the second when Tomas Fleischmann roofed a shot on Carey Price on a power play at 3:46 of the second.

Shawn Matthias made it 2-1 on his seventh of the season by wristing a shot from 35 feet out just over three minutes into the third. Fleischmann got his second of the night by scoring into an empty net with 40.2 seconds remaining. Cole gave the Canadiens hope by scoring with 29.8 remaining but Clemmensen held on.


Panthers winger Tomas Kopecky was not suspended for punching New York's Mike Del Zotto in the final seconds of Friday's loss. Both Kopecky and Del Zotto were fined the league maximum $2,500. Del Zotto engaged Kopecky with a high stick to the head near the goal crease. 

“I give the powers that be a lot of credit because they analyzed the situation, looked at a lot of video,'' Dineen said Saturday morning. “At the end of it, there will be fines handed down to both Tomas and some of their players. There is still some evaluation as far as their actions.''

() Barch got a game misconduct on Friday when he came out for the face off following the scrap. Dineen said he put Barch out there to send a message to the Rangers. With Barch's actions on Saturday, it's unlikely he plays for the Panthers Thursday at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. 

“All of a sudden [the Rangers] threw out some more meat-heads at the end of the game,'' Dineen said, “and when they do that, you don't have a choice but to .-.-. we're going to come with the best response for us. The officials did a good job of controlling the situation, although there wasn't much to it.''

() Florida is 2-0 against the Canadiens this season.

() The Panthers will take Sunday off and return to their practice facility in Coral Springs on Monday morning around 10 a.m. for a workout. It is open to the public and admission is free.

Florida Panthers Krys Barch Ejected for Racial Slur on Canadiens P.K. Subban

Barch2Florida Panthers enforcer Krys Barch – brought to Florida in a trade with Dallas last month – was ejected after linesman Darren Gibbs overheard him use a racial slur during a scrum near the Florida net at the end of the first period of Florida's game against Montreal.

Barch's slur was aimed toward Montreal's P.K. Subban, who is black. 

“No comment,'' general manager Dale Tallon said as he was heading downstairs during the second intermission. “I don't know what happened yet.''

Said team general partner Cliff Viner: “This is not what the character of this organization is about. SubbanPeriod. I'm devastated by that kind of behavior. That is not what we're about as an organization, a team, coaching staff, hockey operations.

"Dale, I'm sure, will be very critical of this. I hope they talk to the team and let them know this is unacceptable. You play hard, you fight hard. But that's not part of any competition.''

Extra Special Florida Panthers/Montreal Canadiens Pregame Notebook! Talking Kopecky, Rangers 'Meatheads,' Theodore, Clemmensen, Goc and Much, Much More!

MerrynewyearMerry New Year! 

Hope you all are enjoying a beautiful South Florida Saturday and not trapped in your home like me. Hey, I'm still trying to get over something so a day laying around isn't too bad.

Have to get ready for the big game tonight.

Anyway, the Panthers had an optional skate today and had a pretty good showing with almost everyone out there.

One player who wasn't was Tomas Kopecky. All is well Kopeckythough, as Kevin Dineen said Kopecky spoke with NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan where he was told there would be no suspension for last night's antics. Dineen said Kopecky would be fined. 

On Saturday afternoon, the league announced both Kopecky and Michael Del Zotto would be fined the maximum $2,500.

“I was really irritated last night and that was very upsetting,'' Dineen said. “I give the powers that be a lot of credit because they analyzed the situation, looked at a lot of video.

"I was chomping at the bit at the whole situation, especially [Mike] Rupp working his way around to jump [Kopecky] and get him. At the end of it, there will be fines handed down to both Tomas and some of their players. There is still some evaluation as far as their actions.

“There is no suspension.''

-- Krys Barch got a game misconduct when he came out for the face off following the scrap. Why was Barch on the ice at that time?

“All of a sudden [the Rangers] threw out some more Meatheadmeatheads at the end of the game,'' Dineen said, “and when they do that, you don't have a choice but to .-.-. there were only seven seconds left in the game.

"If they're going to put those kind of guys on the ice, we're going to come with the best response for us. The officials did a good job of controlling the situation, although there wasn't much to it.''

Guess who is really looking forward to the rematch next week at the Garden?

YouppiYeah, this guy.

-- Here are the 'Meatheads' on the ice for the Rangers at the time of the face-off: Brandon Prust, Jeff Woywitka, Brian Boyle and Stu Bickel.

Here are the guys -- are they Meatheads as well? --Dineen sent out: Barch, Shawn Matthias, Tim Kennedy, Erik Gudbranson and Ed Jovanovski.

-- Jose Theodore will be back tonight to take on his former Canadiens. Theodore gave up a goal on 11 shots in relief of Scott Clemmensen last night. 

Dineen had yet to pull a goalie in the middle of a period during his short tenure with the Panthers. Said he didn't do it much in the minors, either.

“It's a natural tendency to look in the rear view mirror with a woulda-coulda, but you make your decision on where your team is and what gives you the best chance to win,'' Dineen said.

Clemmdevils“Rarely if ever do I pull a goalie in the middle of a period. Sometimes I've taken them out just to put them right back in, just give them a little rattle of the cage. Unfortunately that was a case in which I felt we had to do it.''

Dineen had this to say about Clemmensen's performance after last night's game: “There were some breakdowns in front of him. But at the end of the day, his job is to stop the puck and he didn't Dickclarksucceed in that early in the first. That's the first time I've pulled someone in the middle of a period, but we needed better goaltending to give us a chance against that team tonight.''

Two of the three goals Clemmensen gave up were deflected in front of him, either by a Rangers player or by a teammate (Matt Bradley). 

-- Marcel Goc and Mikael Samuelsson worked out on their own before the optional skate with Goc staying on to work out with his teammates. Dineen says he still has a number of clearances to go through before he can play.

“It's exciting news to have those guys out there,'' Dineen said. “There was a flatline, especially from Marcel for a month and a half, and he's been Obparade1progressively been having positive days. That's a good sign. [Goc] has some testing to go through before we make some decisions. It's all up to when the doctors deem him cleared to play. Then we'll check his conditioning. It's been a long time off.''

-- Although Dineen would love to join former Hartford teammates Joel Quennville and Dave Tippett as Jack Adams Award winners as NHL Coach of the Year, he says that's the last thing he's working toward this season. We're not at the half way point yet. Close, but not there. 

“This season is a marathon. It's a long year,'' Dineen said. “I have great friends in Joel and Dave who have won that award. I don't think they remember the first 40 games of that season. There's a lot of hockey to play, a lot of work to be done.''

-- Dineen on the Panthers play of late; Florida has lost eight of 14 this month going 6-5-3. The Panthers are 1-2 in their five-game run against Original Six teams and have been outscored 15-6.

Florida's lead in the Southeast is down to four over Winnipeg with the Jets playing host to the Leafs tonight. Washington is now just five back after winning its past two games. The Capitals are in C-bus tonight.

“We're playing good hockey teams, but I'm not happy with the way we're playing some of the top tier teams in the league particularly Boston and the Rangers,'' Dineen said. “Phoenix, who I think is a very solid team, I thought we played a game where we kept it close but I don't think our overall style of play was good enough to have success.

“Montreal is a another team that has played solid since their Chicago game; they've played better hockey. Obviously we look at where we've been, but when you have a game in less than 24 hours, we're not looking at the big picture. We just want two points to solidify where we are.''

-- As far as tonight being a road game? Dineen says the more the merrier. Dineen welcomes a new Hatconference/divisional rivalry with the Canadiens in the near future as the league re-districts itself.

“We invite all the great people of Montreal to come on down for a game,'' Dineen said. “It may be cheaper to get a plane ticket and a ticket here than it is to get a game ticket for the Canadiens. Rivalries happen and we look at Tampa as our natural rival.

"But the more you see a team, the more a rivalry will build. I think it will be enjoyable for years to come.''

December 30, 2011

Florida Panthers Tomas Kopecky NOT SUSPENDED for Punching Rangers Del Zotto, Fighting with Rupp ... WITH VIDEO

Tomas Kopecky got a match penalty for punching Michael Del Zotto in the face after taking a stick to the head late in Florida's 4-1 loss to the Rangers.

Rangers coach John Tortorella said it was ''a cheap shot. With no honor.''

Kevin Dineen said Del Zotto got exactly what he deserved.

Looks like Del Zotto knew a fight was coming and Kopecky's punch connected. If there's a real cheapie in there, how about Mike Rupp punching Kopecky as he's getting off the ice?

Alcoa: You make the call.

UPDATE: Kopecky spoke with NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan early Saturday and will not be suspended for his actions Friday. He will face an at this time undisclosed fine.

Dineen added that there hasn't been a decision made on the Rangers just yet.

Enjoy the video folks.


Florida Panthers/Rangers: A Fight AT The End ... Blueshirts Win 4-1, Roll into Philly for Winter Classic ... Tomas Kopecky May Miss Saturday v Canadiens After Punching Del Zotto

NyrfightThe Panthers are likely going to be shorthanded, again, in Saturday's game against Montreal.

In the waning seconds of Friday's 4-1 loss to the visiting Rangers, Florida's Tomas Kopecky cold-cocked New York's Michael Del Zotto after taking a high stick from Del Zotto near the net with just over seven seconds left.

That set off a melee on the ice with Kopecky being tackled from behind by Brandon Prust before he ended up fighting Mike Rupp. Krys Barch also received a misconduct. 

Kopecky is expected to be suspended for the game; Florida has six forwards on the injured list. The Rangers described the shot from Kopecky as a sucker punch.

“That's hockey. Some guy cross-checks you in the back and then follows through. He deserves a good smash in the face,'' Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said of Del Zotto. “He got what he deserved. Then guys who play five minutes a night, it's typical that they would go and try and grab our skill players. We'll see what the response is.''

Before the game, Rangers coach John Tortorella dismissed the notion his team may overlook the Panthers with the much-hyped Winter Classic at the Phillies' ballpark just around the corner. 

Tortorella and the Rangers are off to Philadelphia feeling pretty good about things as the Panthers spotted New York a four-goal lead. The Rangers won five straight before losing 4-1 in Washington on Wednesday. If they were upset, well, they looked the part.

The Rangers, who beat the Panthers 6-1 at Madison Square Garden a few weeks back, kept their offensive attack going on Friday. New York chased starting goalie Scott Clemmensen to the bench by scoring three within the opening 16 minutes. Two of the goals, however, we're deflected before getting past Clemmensen.

“We weren't sharp early on and spotted them four,'' Stephen Weiss said. “We pushed back in the second and third, but with that goalie and their defense, it's tough to climb back into it.'' 

Jose Theodore, who starts Saturday, gave up the Rangers' fourth goal 7:41 in the second before Florida got on the board as Matt Bradley backhanded a shot from 20 feet shot that found a home in the top corner of the cage. Bradley had a chance for Florida's second goal with 11:45 left in the third but hit the post.

“Against a team like that, they go down four goals and it's almost impossible to come back,'' Bradley said. “There's no excuse for the way we started that game. It was embarrassing to do that, especially after what happened to them last time.''

Theodore got in a little work before facing the rested -- although reeling -- Canadiens in the annual New Year's Eve meeting between the two. Theodore only faced 11 shots.

With Florida's lead in the Southeast Division down to four points on second place Winnipeg, the Panthers sure would like to go into 2012 with a win. Especially with the first game of the new year coming Jan. 5 against the Rangers at the Garden. 

“We have to be better than we were [Friday],'' Dineen said. “We didn't start well and when the desperation got down we started to control the play. But we started much too late.''

() With Weiss back in the lineup after missing two games with sore ribs, Evgenii Dadonov was returned to AHL San Antonio for the third time this season.

() Assistant general manager Mike Santos said Madden has left South Florida after being checked out by the team's medical and training staff on Thursday. Florida, Santos said, is still weighing its options regarding potential trades or signing Madden. The Panthers still have six forwards on the injured list.


HabsWhen, Where: 7 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Tied 31-31-6

Scouting report: Montreal limps into South Florida as the Canadiens have lost five of six under interim coach Randy Cunneyworth – who was once head coach of the Panthers' former AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. The Habs had lost three of five before firing Jacques Martin. Saturday's game is sold out and will be part of Hockey Night in Canada's New Year's coverage. The Panthers won the previous meeting 2-1 in Montreal on Oct. 24.


The Canadian Press: Florida Panthers Among Teams on Upward Swing; Lightning, Caps Among Those Heading South

CelebrationFROM THE CP (not me):

The 2011-12 NHL campaign is turning out to be full of surprises.

Who would ever guess that Claude Giroux and Phil Kessel would be among the scoring leaders?

The same is true of some high-flying teams like Minnesota and Florida.

In the Western Conference, Minnesota, St. Louis and Dallas all missed the playoffs last season but now look poised to reach the post-season. The same can be said of the Panthers in the East.

On the flip side, teams like Tampa Bay, Washington, Anaheim and Montreal have taken a big tumble.
Here's a look at teams on the move this season.


Wild1. Minnesota Wild: There was excitement at the draft in June in St. Paul, Minn., that the Wild would end their three-year playoff drought. It was justified, but not because of big off-season acquisitions Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, who have been so-so. The Wild are near the bottom of the 30-team league in goals scored. The success stems from a strong team game under first year coach Mike Yeo and stellar goaltending from Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. At this time a year ago, Minnesota was struggling to stay above the .500 mark and they finished in 11th place.

2. Florida Panthers: In 19 months, general manager Dale Tallon has transformed the Panthers. And he's done it with what was thought to be second-tier players. Who ever thought Steven Weiss, Tomas SaluteFleischmann and Kris Versteeg could be one of the NHL's most potent offensive lines? Many thought goaltender Jose Theodore was finished, but he's put up fine numbers. And Brian Campbell, the rearguard Chicago didn't want, is running a nifty power play on which fellow point man Jason Garrison has emerged from nowhere as a top shooter. They've also done it with a first-year coach, Kevin Dineen.

3. Dallas Stars: After losing gifted centre Brad Richards , the Stars' hopes looked dim. But enter yet another first-year coach, Glen Gulutzan, and another team that has surpassed expectations. Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson stepped up as the offensive leaders, while free agent signing Michael Ryder has been a consistent scorer. Sheldon Souray was rescued from exile in the Edmonton system to play strong minutes on defence. And the goaltending from Kari Lehtonen and, recently, rookie Richard Bachmann, has been solid.

4. St. Louis Blues: It took a coaching change to snap the Blues out of a sub-.500 start and go on a tear, and it turned out veteran Ken Hitchcock was just the man to do it. St. Louis doesn't have any scoring stars, although getting David Perron back from injury will help. None of T. J Oshie, David Backes and Alex Steen is on even a 30-goal pace. But they have one of the strongest young defence groups in the league, led by Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, and so-called back-up goalie Brian Elliott has been out of this world. Even No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak has picked up his game of late.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs: It's been six years out of the playoffs for the Leafs and it will likely be a struggle again, but there has been plenty to cheer for. The forward combination of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul Leafshas been on fire since the start of the season and the power play led by captain Dion Phaneuf and newcomer John-Michael Liles has been among the league's best. They still let in to many goals, perhaps due partly to time missed with a concussion by goalie James Reimer, but they have been big, fast and productive on attack.


1. Tampa Bay Lightning: Perhaps the magic of innovative coach Guy Boucher has worn off, but it all looks to be coming apart for a Lightning team that had 103 points and reached the conference final last season. The Bolts have been weak on defence and in goal, where 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson is looking his age. And the attack has also dropped off, other than Steven Stamkos, who is on pace to match last year's 45 goals. The close games the Lightning won so often last year seem to be going the other way.

2. Anaheim Ducks: A mad rush led by Corey Perry at the end of last season put the Ducks into fourth place in the West, but they have floundered this season, battling Columbus for the league basement. That is despite another remarkable season from 41-year-old Teemu Selanne, who is averaging a point per game. Even Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are have been OK. But the goaltending from Jonas Hiller has been a disappointment and the trade rumours around underperforming forward Bobby Ryan may be a distraction. They already fired coach Randy Carlyle, so some kind of spark is needed to save this season.

3. Washington Capitals: Only two seasons ago, the high-flying Caps were a threat to blow out any opponent at any time, but their shift to defensive hockey has been a disaster. Alex Ovechkin was thought to be the sport's best player, but looks average too often now. Alexander Semin looks even worse. Free agent goaltender Tomas Vokoun has not been the answer, so it remains to be seen if replacing Bruce Boudreau behind the bench with no-nonsense Dale Hunter will turn things around.

4. Montreal Canadiens: They were sixth in the East last year and entered the season optimistic about the signing of free agent Erik Cole and about defenceman Andrei Markov's return from knee surgery. Except it turned out that Markov won't be back until some still undertermined time in 2012, and who knows if he'll be the same two-way star he once was. That among other miscalculations by GM Pierre Gauthier produced a listless team with an inexperienced defence and led to the firing of coach Jacques Martin and the controversial hiring of Randy Cunneyworth. So now they're in trouble in the standings and with some of their fans.

5. Buffalo Sabres: This was another team with high hopes that has underperformed, although long-standing coach Lindy Ruff's job is not likely in danger. The real shocker is the very ordinary numbers put up by star goaltender Ryan Miller, who was not playing all that well even before he was steamrollered by Milan Lucic and missed time with a concussion. Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek are scoring, as is rookie Luke Adam, but the rest of the attack has been spotty. Free agent Ville Leino, before he got hurt, has added very little of the second-line scoring punch they hoped for.

Friday's Florida Panthers/New York Rangers Pregame Notebook: Mike Weaver Gets New Deal; Scott Clemmensen v Henrik Lundqvist; New Lines in Sunrise; Sean Avery Waived

Good afternoon, hope you all are enjoying this beautiful Friday afternoon here in South Florida.

The big news out of today's morning skate is Mike Weaver signing a two-year contract extension with the Panthers.

WeaverWeaver, now in his second season with the Cats, is a nice success story. He was told all his life he was too small to be an effective NHL defenseman, yet here he is, playing in Game No. 459 tonight against the Rangers. 

Kris Versteeg was so happy, he hit Weaver in the face with a shaving cream pie while he was doing TV interviews in the locker room.

“I love Florida,'' Weaver said today. “Given two years; they show a lot of confidence game in and game out. They put me in a lot of different situations and I thrive in that. I just want to keep it simple, move past this and keep going. I just look one game at a time, one season at a time.

"I've worked my butt off since I've turned pro to get in a situation I feel comfortable in. It's nice to be in Florida, that's for sure.''

Here's what Weaver told me in training camp on why he wears No. 43: “They gave me this number in my first training camp with Atlanta so I kept it. It's a reminder of the road it took to get to the NHL. Looking at that 43 reminds me how lucky I am every day.''

Yeah, he isn't taking this for granted.

When asked how long his stick it, the 5-foot-9 Weaver said “I really don't know, but it's taller than me without skates, that's for sure.''

-- That leaves Jason Garrison as Florida's only Garryunrestricted free agent on the blue line. The Panthers have often said they are confident a deal with Garrison will get done. He says he wants to be here; the Panthers say they want him here. So there you go.

-- Look for Scott Clemmensen to be in net tonight for the Panthers with Jose Theodore going against the Habs tomorrow night. 

-- Stephen Weiss was out there for the morning skate, and although coach Kevin Dineen is being Weiss2sneaky, look for Weiss to be in.

Dineen said he will dress an extra forward for the pre-game skate today, but Keaton Ellerby and Evgenii Dadonov spent a long time on the post-skate ice today.

Dadonov hadn't even come into the room by the time I left this morning.

So that means Dadonov is out, Weiss is in.

Dineen also split up the top line on Friday, with Weiss centering a line with Tomas Kopecky and Kris Versteeg. Shawn Matthias was with Tomas Fleischmann and Matt Bradley on the second line. 

The third line: Mike Santorelli centering Michal Repik and Tim Kennedy; Fourth: Mark Cullen with Krys Barch and Bill Thomas.

-- Nothing new on the John Madden situation. Hope to know more tonight. 

-- The Rangers didn't skate today – they worked out in Virginia on Thursday afternoon following Wednesday's loss to the Capitals – but all signs point to Henrik Lundqvist in net. 

-- The Rangers placed pest Sean Avery on waivers for the second time this season, so it looks like he won't Averywhaleget to model those cool throwbacks at the Winter Classic.

Avery probably wouldn't have played Friday – or Monday – anyway; he's been a healthy scratch in the past nine games. 

December 29, 2011

Winter Classic in Miami? Florida Panthers Want to Talk to NHL About 'Outdoor' Game at Marlins Park

Winter2012The New York Rangers are in town with Friday's game against the Panthers being the final stop on their road to the 2012 Winter Classic.

The Rangers are scheduled to face the host Flyers at Citizens Bank Park on Monday, normally the home of baseball's Philadelphia Phillies, as long as the weather cooperates.

Monday's game is the fifth official Winter Classic, with previous games at Wrigley Field, Ralph Wilson Stadium, Heinz Field and Fenway Park. In January, Ohio State will play Michigan atop the Cleveland Indians' playing field.

Could Miami be in line to host an outdoor hockey Marlinsparkgame as well? Don't laugh. 

Thanks to the new Marlins ballpark – and its retractable roof – ice making experts say an NHL game could be played 'outdoors' in South Florida.

Will it ever come to pass? Well, that's another story.

“It would cost a lot of money to do it, but they're spending that anyway for these games,'' said Graham Caplinger, ice technician for the Panthers at BankAtlantic Center. “The NHL has this down to a science. They definitely could do it in Miami. You may lose the spirit of the thing because it will be inside-outside, but I think it would be cool. If it's in the winter months, I see no reason why you couldn't do it.''

And, the Marlins park could not only have ice, but if Marlinspark2the conditions outside were good enough, it could be NHL quality ice. First, the ballpark would have to
close its retractable roof for about two weeks with the air conditioning running – and humidity lowered – while the ice sheet is built and maintained.

On game day, the roof would open for the outdoor affect.

One can only imagine the scenery an outdoor hockey game in the tropics would produce for a worldwide television audience. That imagery is what the Panthers would sell to the league. It's a hook no other market has. Sure, Los Angeles has sun and palm trees; it doesn't have the retractable roof.

“It would be unique, that's for sure,'' said Panthers winger Kris Versteeg, who was the first hockey player Wrigleyclassicto ever score in a ballpark when he gave Chicago a 1-0 lead on Detroit at Wrigley Field on Jan. 1, 2009. 

“Everyone loves coming down here and it would be neat to have a tropical outdoor game. People would travel from all over for that. The game and the weather would be great for the fans. It was awesome playing at Wrigley, but I don't want to play in that cold again. But it was a memory I'll always have.''

Brian Campbell, who played in the initial classic in Buffalo and then alongside Versteeg at Wrigley Field, said he would love to play in another outdoor game. And like Versteeg, he would like to play in one where it's not so cold outside.

“I've been thinking about where it's going next and which teams get to experience this next,'' Campbell said. “With today's technology, in a dome, there should be no problem. I think it would be awesome. Move it around, expose it to other parts of the country. A retractable dome would be perfect. It should be here. That would be good for the game.''

FenwayclassicPanthers coach Kevin Dineen attended Marlins games during the summer and spoke to various team officials.

When they told Dineen about the new ballpark and how it would be climate controlled, Dineen remembers thinking that “if the temperature could be dropped another 20 degrees,'' the new park would be perfect for a Winter Classic.

Panthers against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a Sunshine State Bowl, perhaps?

“Why not? I think it would be a really good experience for the league,'' Dineen said. “This is something that would be attractive in this market and people all over would watch it. Now we have a facility for it, so lets plant the seed and get it here.''

The chances this actually happens is remote, although some with the Panthers think the NHL with its aggressive marketing could look at a tropical outdoor game as something unique.

Of course there are many northern markets – not to mention California – vying to host this game. South Florida would be at the very bottom of a long list. The Panthers are taking the idea seriously.

“I wish I would have thought of this myself, but it's a real possibility,'' team president Michael Yormark said. 

“I think David Samson and the Marlins would love to do something like this. At the right time, we would want to discuss this with the league. We would like to put this on their radar. Florida is such a great destination, who wouldn't want to be here for a game like this? Our town would embrace this. It would be a huge event for us, South Florida and the NHL.''

The NHL's state-of-the-art ice making truck is said to be able to make ice almost anywhere. In 1991, a Caesershockeypreseason game between the Kings and Rangers was played in the parking lot of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Despite 85 degree temperatures, the ice was playable and gives real hope that a game would work in the sunny south. Especially in the winter.

“People would remember this one,'' Versteeg said. “No doubt about it.''


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

MollsnyrTV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Rangers lead 39-30-6

The game: The Rangers were playing great, winning five straight before being thumped 4-1 in Washington on Wednesday. New York lost to the Panthers 2-1 in Sunrise before Thanksgiving, but then beat Florida 6-1 at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 11. .-.-. Less than 1,000 tickets remain for Friday's game; Saturday's game against the Canadiens has limited single seats remaining.

Thursday's Florida Panthers Notes: John Madden in Town, Talks Continue; Stephen Weiss Practices; Kevin Dineen and The Whale; HBO Comes to Sunrise; Panthers Want to Play Outside; Tickets Selling Fast

There was a large crowd on hand for today's practice in Coral Springs with the team working out on their rink before moving over to one of the other ice sheets to work on power play and penalty kill.

It was a pretty good practice with some news coming afterward.

First off, free agent center John Madden is in South Florida and spent part of the day talking with the team – including coach Kevin Dineen – and being checked out medically.

Ran into Dale Tallon and Bill Torrey at lunch, with Tallon telling me nothing has happened yet. The Panthers are talking to Madden as well as some other unnamed players. He said they will likely bring in someone by Monday.

“There are ongoing conversations,'' Dineen said. “We have different things to evaluate. .-.-. He's certainly, given his past history, is a valid option for us. He can be an effective player if he's conditioned and ready to go. He came down and I wanted to see where he's at physically. We haven't concluded that yet.''

As far as Madden chomping at the bit, well, Dineen says 'duh!' Madden hasn't played since last April.

“When you play as long as you have,'' Dineen said, “I know Bryan McCabe is down here too and I bet if that opportunity arose, he'd be here. Good for them. I was the same way. John should be excited about it. We'll get through the process and see what works out.''

-- And finally, the Panthers appear to be healing up.

Although Scottie Upshall and Jack Skille aren't close to returning, Stephen Weiss practiced today and “looked good,'' said Dineen. It looks like he's going to play tomorrow against the Rangers. 

“I sure liked the way he was skating,'' Dineen said. “He looked like he had some real jump and he's itching. He doesn't like to be away too much. I'm leaning toward being positive right now.''

Said Weiss: “We'll see in the next 24 hours. I had a good practice, felt strong. Now it's just a matter of being able to take contact. I have a little time here. But I need to make a decision soon.''

Marcel Goc, Sean Bergenheim, Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson are out for the next two games, but could also get in here in the coming days and weeks. 

-- Dineen definitely noticed that the Panthers played 'Brass Bonanza' during Tuesday's game against the Leafs. That kitschy song is best known for being the Hartford Whalers goal song back in the day. Dineen is a former captain of 'The Whale.'

“I got a kick out of it,'' Dineen said. “I remember when I was doing player development and went to the University of Vermont. I called, got a pass. Then they played the song during an intermission. I asked if it was a coincidence, and they said no, it was because I was there. The Red Sox play it and that has nothing to do with the Whale, but I get a kick out of it. Every time I hear it.''

-- Dineen on more than 40,000 fans attending either the Heat home opener or the Panthers-Leafs on Tuesday: “It's a great testament to the sports fan in South Florida. It's a great night out. During the holiday time you're looking for quality time with the family and here's something you can do together. 

“We think we're an affordable, quality option for families here in town. I don't know where the Heat season ticket base is, but we're very sensitive that we're not cheap sports to see live so we want to play as well as we can.''

-- Dineen on the HBO 24/7 cameras being around tomorrow: “You never know,'' he said, looking my way. “You might be the next Turtle on Entourage. You never know how how things play out. You just need a little bit of a window. As I say, I try to sell opportunity all the time.''

-- Speaking of the Rangers and the outdoor game, how about bringing it south? Like way down south.

I floated the idea of playing the outdoor game at the new Marlins ballpark back on Jan. 1, 2010. You can read the original post here. 

Go ahead and laugh. But check this out: 

“I wish I would have thought of this myself, but it's a real possibility,'' team president Michael Yormark said.

“I think David Samson and the Marlins would love to do something like this. At the right time, we would want to discuss this with the league. We would like to put this on their radar. Florida is such a great destination, who wouldn't want to be here for a game like this? Our town would embrace this. It would be a huge event for us, South Florida and the NHL.''

More on this topic, believe it or not, soon.

-- And finally, if you need Rangers tickets, you better hurry up. The Panthers say they have less than 1,000 left and stubhub.com says it has less than 700 for sale. Prices on the hub start at less than $15.

The Canadiens game is all but sold out through the Panthers, although stubhub has 1,400 left starting at $16. 

Happy hunting.

December 28, 2011

Wednesday's Florida Panthers Notebook: Hartford Whalers Edition (Now with MORE Brass Bonanza!)

NotebookNot a whole lot going on today, although the potential John Madden signing (see below) is a nice low-risk move a beat-up Panthers team should make.

I hear it's just a matter of time before this is done.

Stephen Weiss and Mikael Samuelsson practiced before the Panthers workout in Coral Springs today and, as Dale Tallon alluded to, both could be back either this weekend or for the game in New York after the New Years.

I could see Weiss playing in at least one of the upcoming weekend games.

-- Nothing else really happened today. Ed Jovanovski wasn't on the ice (off day) and coach Kevin Dineen had to split for a doctor's appointment.

Will ask him how he liked hearing 'Brass Bonanza' during Tuesday's win tomorrow.


All Signs Point to John Madden Landing with Florida Panthers

MaddencampbellThe Panthers are close to signing 38-year-old center John Madden and could announce a deal on Thursday.

According to general manager Dale Tallon, the Panthers are talking to Madden and deciding whether or not “it's worth” pursuing a deal.

Madden, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with New Jersey and Chicago, hasn't played since April. He scored 12 goals with the Wild last season.

“We're still talking right now,'' Tallon said. “Yeah, something could happen tomorrow. We'll see. I just don't know.''

The big question is Madden's physical shape. Tallon said that's a concern in bringing him in since it may take Madden some time to get the rust off.

“We don't know how long that's going to take and when we're getting some other guys back,'' Tallon Madden3said. “That's the big question mark. But John has always been a good skater. And he's a pretty solid guy, has been for a long time.''

Assistant coach Craig Ramsay said Madden's shape could be an issue, so even if he were signed Thursday, his status for Friday's game against the Rangers is in question.

But, the Panthers like what Madden would bring to the team. Madden is a strong face-off guy and would help the Panthers up the middle of the ice. He would also be a strong asset on the penalty kill.

Madden has been working out in the Minneapolis area and told NJ.com earlier this month when the Devils came to town to play the Wild that he was hoping for a call to come back. If not, he said, he was going to hang them up. 

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen was unavailable for comment today after leaving practice early because of a doctor's appointment. 

“We have to get him in and get him taken care of physically,'' Ramsay said. “We don't know where his conditioning is. He's a veteran guy who has played in Madden2some pretty good spots and knows what it takes to win. If he can come in and give us those quality minutes – win some face-offs, keep the puck in the offensive zone, be good without the puck – those are key issues for a team at times. .-.-.

“You have to look at a veteran player who has been around, he's been durable and knows how to play the game. He knows the game. Those guys find a way to play. That's what we're hoping for.''

Kris Versteeg played with Madden on the Blackhawks' championship team in 2009-10 and said Madden called to check on the situation in South Florida. 

“I told him 'hey man, if you want to be part of a great team coming up, this is the place.' We have a great facility and great weather too,'' Versteeg said.

“Everything is going in a good direction. He's excited about getting down here.''

As far as Madden fitting in? No problem, Versteeg said.

“Mads is awesome. He's a great person and has won three Cups. He brings leadership, effort every night and great knowledge of the game,'' Versteeg said. “It's great to have a guy like Mads come in here. It may take him three or four games to get going, but obviously you have to be confident he'll get back into it. I'm sure everyone is going to be happy to have him. 

“I still can't believe no one signed him over the summer. We're lucky to have grabbed him.''

December 27, 2011

Florida Panthers Get Lots of Help From San Antonio Rampage in 5-3 Win over Maple Leafs ... All Five San Antonio Panthers Record Point ... Cats End Three Game Slide

Alamo1After starting his career with the Panthers and then spending the past five seasons in Phoenix, Ed Jovanovski has seen his home arena invaded by visiting fans many times in the past. 

So, he wasn't surprised to see so many inside BankAtlantic Center wearing the blue-and-white of the Maple Leafs on Tuesday.

“You find a way to get at least one more than they do,'' Jovanovski said before the game, “and you'll hear our fans cheering. Our job is to quiet the Toronto fans.''

That the Panthers did.

Florida scored on three straight shots during a wild stretch of the second period and held on for a much-needed 5-3 win over the 'visiting' Maple Leafs in front of a season-high 20,406.

The Panthers, with seven forwards out of the lineup for a second straight game, ended a three game skid with the victory. 

“This was a big win for us,'' Michal Repik said.

How much different was the Panthers roster on Tuesday as compared to their 5-1 win in Toronto on Nov. 8? 

On Nov. 5, Florida's AHL affiliate beat the Leafs' SAToronto Marlies team 6-1. Five forwards who were in Florida's lineup on Tuesday were playing for the Rampage at that time. Scott Clemmensen, Florida's backup goalie, got the win for the Rampage in his only AHL start of the season.

Tuesday, those former – and probably for some, soon-to-be – San Antonio players came up big.

Repik had a game-high six shots and screened goalie James Reimer for Florida's first and third goals. Bill Thomas, recently signed to an NHL contract, gave Florida a 2-1 lead as he slipped the puck past Reimer 19 seconds after the Leafs tied things 1-1. 

All five of the San Antonio Panthers had at least a point on Tuesday. 

“Coach said it was a team effort and every line contributed. That's a good feeling,'' said Mark Cullen, called up on Tuesday. “We need to do more than just fill in. It's nice to contribute on the scoresheet.''

Florida took a 1-0 lead on a long shot from rookie Erik Gudbranson from 55 feet out but then didn't do much on offense. The Panthers were held to four shots in the opening period – and went 15:40 between the third and the fourth. 

The Leafs tied the score at 1 early in the second, but Florida came storming back. Thomas took off and snared a sweet pass from Evgenii Dadonov and walked in on Reimer, the puck rolling off his stick but through.

Jason Garrison then threw up a shot on a power play that was originally credited to Repik; Garrison's goal was his 11th – most of any defenseman in the league. Florida then made it 4-1 as Kris Versteeg knocked a loose puck through at 6:55 of the second. 

Versteeg's goal came against Jonas Gustavsson as Toronto coach Ron Wilson pulled Reimer after he surrendered three goals on eight shots. 

Toronto didn't go quietly after going down 4-1 as Dion Phaneuf scored midway through the second and Alamo2Mikhail Grabovski got his second of the night midway through the third after deflecting a Clarke MacArthur shot with his skate past Jose Theodore to make it 4-3. 

Tomas Fleischmann all but ended it for the Panthers when he scored with 8:16 remaining.


The Panthers could get some help soon as the Christmas roster freeze is lifted on Wednesday. Florida is said to have interest in free agent center John Madden – a three-time Stanley Cup champion with New Jersey (two) and Chicago. 

MaddenMadden, 38, scored 12 goals for the Wild last season and has been working out in Minnesota waiting for a call. 

“We're talking to everyone and we're listening to everyone,'' general manager Dale Tallon said during Tuesday's game. “We really need some bodies. We're trying to get better and will do so anyway we can.''

() Center Stephen Weiss missed his second straight game with what is thought to be sore ribs although he's expected to return Friday against the Rangers.

Marcel Goc (concussion) has been out since November and could also be back soon. Mikael Samuelsson (tailbone) is also close to returning although Marco Sturm (concussion) is not.

Florida Panthers and Maple Leafs: Tuesday's Pregame Notes

VersteegTOSaw a lot of blue-and-white license tags in the Sawgrass Mills parking lot today.

What does that mean? 

Nothing I guess. Just throwing it out there.

(The above shot is of Panthers winger Kris Versteeg addressing the Toronto media. There were a few of us South Florida folk there too.)

-- Not a whole lot of news out of today.

Stephen Weiss is out of the game so your Florida Panthers top line?

(Drum roll)....

Tomas Fleischmann, Shawn Matthias, Matt Bradley.

Actually, I could see a lot of energy coming out of these three. Matthias is playing great.

Still, you hate to see Weiss out of the lineup. Different team, historically, when he's not there.

"As a coach you just keep banging on that drum,'' Kevin Dineen said of Weiss, "because he’s a guy to reach for in all key situations.''

-- Jose Theodore doesn't speak on game days because of days (re: lots of media) like today.

He was very discreet in sneaking out the back door of the locker room.

I saw you bubba.

Theodore in net versus the Leafs.

-- Any updates on the other six injured players?


The silence around the Panthers is deafening. I'll get some updates tonight. Just don't ask me how.

-- Erik Gudbranson told the Canadian media that it wasn't his call in whether he would stay here or play for Team Canada in the world juniors.

He said all the right things. Losing the gold medal game last year "still leaves a bitter taste,'' so going back and winning it this year in Canada would be cool.

But, he added, it's tough to leave your team for a month -- especially an NHL team. The Panthers made the right decision in keeping him, Gudbranson said.

Maddencruiser-- Our good pal Mike Russo (@Russostrib on Twitter) says former Devils center John Madden is working out in Minnesota waiting for that call to come back.

Word is the Panthers are interested. 

Madden, who won two Cups with the Devils, was part of the Blackhawks 2010 title team. Now 38, Madden scored 12 goals for the Wild last season.

Why not?

-- Talked a little hockey with Sportsnet's Jeff Marek and Yahoo's Greg Wyshynski (puckdaddy.com) on Tuesday. You can listen to it at another time.

-- Back on the radio tonight around 7 to talk up the Panthers/Leafs tilt on Toronto's own AM 640. You can tune in here.

-- Mark Cullen is back with the Panthers and it seems like the problem with him not making it to Boston last week was timing. He had to clear waivers and couldn't do so with such a quick turnaround. 

He's happy to be back and said if you're going to miss a game in the NHL, it's good to be an 8-0 loss.

"No offense to him,'' Dineen said, "but he wouldn't have made much of a difference.''

Cullen laughed when I repeated that quote.

-- With Cullen in, Gudbranson is back on D.

The Panthers are 0-4 when rolling seven defensemen.

“It’s not a great formula for us obviously,'' Dineen quipped.


December 26, 2011

Maple Leafs Coming to Town Kicks off Road Week for Florida Panthers in Sunrise

To put you in a good mood before the Leafs invade Sunrise tomorrow, I offer you a Florida Panthers classic: Erik Szpyra and Craig Anderson in Leaf v. Panther.



Who Are these Cats?: Florida Panthers Injuries Pile Up as Leafs Come Calling on Tuesday ... Erik Gudbranson: Mr. Versatile

StanleywheelchairThe Toronto Maple Leafs may want to download the Panthers roster before Tuesday's game at BankAtlantic Center.

The Leafs should also forget watching film of the previous meeting between the two back in November.

Because of all the injuries, the Panthers hardly resemble the team they were just last week much less right after Halloween.

Center Stephen Weiss became the seventh Florida forward to go on the injured list. Weiss, who missed Friday's game at Boston, practiced on his own Monday and is questionable for Tuesday's game against his hometown Leafs.

“He's a maybe,'' coach Kevin Dineen said of Weiss. “He got a good skate in and his heart is pretty big. We'll make the final decision for him, but he wants to get out there.''

If Weiss returns, he'll likely be reunited with Weisslinemates Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg. If not, Dineen could split the remaining wingers as he did at Monday's evening practice in Coral Springs.

On Monday, Florida's top line was Fleischmann with center Shawn Matthias and winger Matt Bradley (57 goals in 654 career games). Versteeg was on a second line pairing with center Mike Santorelli and Tomas Kopecky. 

With center Mark Cullen on re-entry waivers and missing practice, defenseman Erik Gudbranson was put back on the fourth forward line working with Evgenii Dadonov and Bill Thomas. Cullen will likely be in Tuesday's lineup thereby replacing Dadonov at center and moving Gudbranson back to the blue line.

“We need guys to step up, and that means everyone including myself or Michal Repik or Dadonov,'' said Versteeg, who went into the Christmas break leading the Panthers in goals (16) and points (37).

“We should always pride ourselves enough to win no matter who is out there. We haven't had a full lineup all year, so we're not going to make excuses now.''

Dineen has yet to use the Panthers mounting injuries as an excuse either through the media nor in meetings with his team. Six years as a coach in the AHL seasoned Dineen to expect injuries, to deal with being shorthanded. The Panthers, Dineen knows, don't get a pass from other teams because of their injury problems.

As former coach Pete DeBoer used to say, “other teams aren't going to take it easy on us.''

In Florida's 5-1 win in Toronto on Nov. 8, three of the injured forwards (Jack Skille, Sean Bergenheim and Marco Sturm) scored for the Panthers. 

“We are a long way from where we were a month ago and that's fine,'' Dineen said. “You have transitions during a season. We were stable with the lines and now we shook them up. We may shake them up again [Monday] night.''

One thing working in the Panthers favor in the coming weeks is their schedule. After running through the first three months like a whirling dervish, the Panthers get to slow things down. Florida plays three games before New Years and five in the next 11 days. After that stretch, the Panthers play just three games in 10 days.

The easier schedule is definitely welcomed by a team that can use it.

Ottawaallstar“I'd rather get the injuries out of the way so we're healthy down the stretch,'' defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. “We only have 12 or 13 games before the All-Star break. Getting through this, you'll see guys filter back into the lineup. We just have to take care of our home ice.''


With Cullen unable to make it to Boston on Friday, the Panthers used 19-year-old Gudbranson on the fourth forward line after working him out there during Thursday's morning skate in Ottawa.

Gudbranson said he enjoyed the change although it took some getting used to. With Cullen on his way to South Florida for Tuesday's game, Gudbranson's position change should be short lived.

“I played there a little as a kid and I enjoyed it. I've always considered myself an offensive guy,'' Gudbranson said. “It was fun getting in front of the net, getting into the corners.''

Said Dineen: “It adds to his resume. It's not a long-term spot but in a short-term situation, he was enthusiastic and excited. I was happy with him.''

-- The Panthers definitely noticed prospect Jonathan Huberdeau's game in Canada's 8-1 win over Finland in the opener of the World Junior Hockey Championships.

Huberdeau, who led the Panthers with three goals Huberdeauduring the preseason, had a goal and four assists in the win.

“Yeah, they played real well,'' said Gudbranson, who would have been playing for Team Canada if he wasn't with the Panthers. “Huberdeau really ripped it up.''

-- Florida's lines during Monday's practice. Remember, Mark Cullen should center the fourth line on Tuesday.






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

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Leafs lead 29-21-7

The game: Florida beat the Leafs 5-1 in Toronto on Nov. 8 as Jose Theodore made 38 saves. Toronto  just gave coach Ron Wilson a contract extension as entering Monday's games, the Leafs were sixth in the Eastern Conference and have won two straight. Florida has lost three straight and are 2-3-3 since beating the Bruins on Dec. 8. 


December 25, 2011

Florida Panthers Future on Display as World Juniors Opens Monday

HuberdeauAs much fun as Panthers management is having watching their team lead the Southeast Division and compete for their first playoff berth since 2000, they really can't wait for their future.

A good number of players who will likely star for the Panthers in the coming years will be on display starting Monday in the World Junior Hockey Championships being held in Alberta. 

“This has always been the plan,'' assistant general manager Mike Santos said. “I'm glad we're having success this year and a lot of that comes from the players we signed last summer. But the plan is to draft well and then develop them. And that comes by not rushing them, leaving them in college or junior hockey. We don't want to rush players into the NHL.

"This is still a three, four year plan. We think we have a real good organization, especially when those players are developed.'' 

Florida has five players competing for the United States and Canada alone. All five of those players – led by Canada's Jonathan Huberdeau and Quinton Howden as well as center Nick Bjugstad of Team USA – could be on the Panthers roster within the next two seasons.

The Panthers have a total of seven top prospects competing in the 10 day tournament. Erik Gudbranson would have played for Canada as well, only he's played in 27  games with the Panthers. 

“If you have seven guys in that tournament, it means your scouts did a pretty good job,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. “Our future looks very bright. These are all very good players who are playing on the world stage. This is good for them. It's a tough tournament to play in and it's tough to make these teams. We're real pleased with the development process and our depth chart.''

One player the Panthers have extreme interest in watching is Bjugstad, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota. Florida took the 6-4 center with the 19th overall pick in 2010 and are expecting him to become a top two line player for the Panthers in the next couple of seasons. 

Bjugstad, 19, has 16 goals and 11 assists for the Gophers this season but has been slowed by an undisclosed injury and missed the first two exhibition games for Team USA leading into Monday's opening game against Denmark. Bjugstad is expected to be paired with Minnesota linemate Kyle Rau – whom Florida took in 2011. 

“There are decisions we have to make, but things are going according to plan,'' Santos said. “A lot of the guys here are going to be with us in the next couple of years.''

Florida fans may have the most interest in watching is Huberdeau, the third overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Huberdeau, 18, led the Panthers in scoring during the preseason – although to be fair, he played in more games than most of the regulars. 

Florida management said Huberdeau played well enough to make the Panthers out of training camp this summer, but they sent him back to his junior team in Quebec for not only more seasoning but physical maturity.

Huberdeau has missed time this season with a broken foot but has been medically cleared to play. 

"I didn't feel any pain in my foot, so it was great," Huberdeau told the Edmonton Journal. "I think just to be back with the team and that I played one game in six weeks, I think it was really good to just play. I think I'll get better every day, every game I play."

Howden missed all of Panthers training camp after suffering a concussion in a rookie game against Nashville and has been out after having similar symptoms after being hit by Team Canada teammate Brett Connolly during a scrimmage. Like Huberdeau, Howden has also been cleared to play. 

The Panthers don't plan on doing much scouting at the tournament since most of the players have already been drafted. Director of amateur scouting Scott Luce and a number of his scouts will be there, although Santos and Tallon don't plan on attending.

“It's more of a place to be seen than anything else,'' Santos said. 

That doesn't mean Tallon and Santos won't be watching. The tournament is now televised in the U.S. on NHL Network where in years past, the tournament could only be seen in Canada – where it is as revered as the NCAA basketball tournament is in the states. 

Russia pulled off the upset in last year's finals by beating host Canada. Russia, Canada, the United States and Finland are the favorites this season.

“These are the best kids in North America,'' Tallon said. “We have a bright future and a good core. Our fans should be excited about what's coming. You talk and talk about your prospects but until you see them in action, fans don't know. But they should be excited to know the kind of players we have.''


December 24, 2011

Jason Garrison: From Undrafted to All-Star? Florida Panthers D-Man Brings the Bomb ... Boston Leftovers

GarrisonnycSome players around the National Hockey League have already circled the last weekend in January, looking ahead to a few days off for a vacation with the family.

Panthers defenseman Jason Garrison isn't. He doesn't know what he'll be doing when the All-Star break comes around, but if he keeps playing like this, he may be working.

"I think I would be excited to go and would bang it out in Ottawa,'' Garrison said of the possibility of being selected to the All-Star team with a grin.

“I have not heard anything. Honestly, I haven't thought of it once. I don't even think it's an option. There are about 22 players on our team who deserve it more than I do.''

If Garrison is indeed selected to play at the All-Star Game, he will be a player in demand  by the gathered media. Garrison is definitely being noticed. His story of perseverance and proving the naysayers wrong a good one. 

Undrafted as a junior, Garrison went to the University of Minnesota-Duluth with the thought he just wanted to improve as a player. “I never even thought about being drafted,'' he has said. “It never even crossed my mind. That's how far away I was.'' 

GarrisonGarrison ended up blossoming as a collegiate player and left after three seasons once signing a free agent deal with the Panthers. Jacques Martin, Florida's general manager at the time, worked hard to get Garrison to sign and said then that Garrison had the potential to become a top-four defenseman in the league.

“It's a great success story and it shows you that there isn't just one road to the NHL,'' assistant coach Gord Murphy said. “Everyone thinks there is one golden path and he proves that just isn't true. He's a late bloomer, late developer. But he always had a strong work ethic and a desire to play hard. Those are the qualities you look for in a strong NHL defenseman. He has that.''

After a season in the minors, Garrison played 39 games with Florida in 2009-10 and showed enough promise that the Panthers offered him a two-year contract. With an increased role last season, Garrison scored a career-high five goals while becoming a much-counted on defensive player.

These days, however, Garrison has been singled out for his offensive contributions. Garrison went into the Christmas break with 10 goals – most among all NHL defensemen. And he's been leading that category for some time. 

“It seems like every time you are watching the ticker for scores, you see his name pop up,'' said Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, Garrison's teammate in Florida for a part of the 2009-10 season. “It's really nice to see him break out like that. He's having a lot of success, playing a lot of minutes. You didn't see that when I was there. He was very quiet, but man, so strong. He's like a beast.''

It's Garrison's booming slap shot that has brought him his goals, as all but one have come from 45 feet or more. Newcomer Brian Campbell has helped, for sure, and has assisted on all but the past two of Garrison's 10 goals. “A lot of ice was open to him early,'' Murphy said, “because everyone was keying on Campbell. Now they're keying on him.''

Garrison2In practice, Garrison says he doesn't wind up to full speed so to not potentially injure his goalie. Still, when he starts shooting, his teammates wisely get out of the way.

Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images North America

“I use my shot as much as I can, just trying to get the puck through,'' Garrison said. “Fortunately a few of them have found the back of the net. For the most part, I'm just shooting it for the forwards, for the tips, to create havoc. I try to play a simple game: Shoot it accurately and hard.''

As much as the Panthers like Garrison's increased offensive role, they stress they want him to continue focusing on his defense. That is, after all, what earned him a contract with the Panthers in the first place. When the Panthers brought in new management in 2010, they assessed what Florida had. Garrison was a player they wanted to keep.

Instead of a two-way contract – making it easier for the Panthers to send him to the minors – Garrison was offered a two-year, one-way contract for a little less guaranteed money. That contract is almost up and Garrison can be a free agent. Florida has had talks with his agent and Garrison has stressed he wants to remain with the Panthers. The feeling is mutual.

“We knew it was a long-term plan here and we wanted to give him confidence and that's been rewarded,'' assistant general manager Mike Santos said. “We haven't sat down at the table yet, but I believe Jason wants to stay with the Panthers. We want him to continue on with us. He's been a big part of what we've done.''


Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told coach Kevin Dineen to “shake off” Friday's 8-0 loss in Boston moments before the two parted. Tallon flew home with the team to South Florida; Dineen stayed behind Bostonbearto celebrate Christmas with his family up north. The Panthers will be back on the ice Monday evening.

The Panthers have had some rough losses this season (5-1 in Tampa Bay, 6-1 to the Rangers) but nothing like the 'Beatdown in Beantown.' Boston jumped to a 4-0 lead by the end of the first period, led 6-0 at the end of the second and finished things off with a pair of third period goals from Brad Marchand as he earned his first career NHL hat trick.

The 8-0 loss was Florida's largest shutout loss in franchise history and second worst loss ever. Florida lost 12-2 to Washington in 2003. The Panthers play host to Toronto on Tuesday and hold a six-point lead on Winnipeg atop the Southeast Division.

“I think we had a little bit of revenge on the mind after what happened last time when they came here and shut us out in our own building,'' Marchand said, referring to Florida's 2-0 win on Dec. 8. “So, the guys were all very excited for this game and everyone did a great job of getting up for it.'' 

December 23, 2011

Florida Panthers Get Nothing Going in Boston, Bruins Roll 8-0

FestivusBOSTON – With seven forwards out of the lineup, including top-line center Stephen Weiss, it would have taken a 'Festivus Miracle' for the Panthers to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions on Friday.

Instead, the Bruins flexed their collective muscle during the feats of strength by humiliating the Panthers 8-0 in front of a standing room only crowd at TD Garden.

It's the worst shutout loss in Panthers history, surpassing a 7-0 defeat in Los Angeles on Feb. 3, 2007.

Brad Marchand scored the final goal with 9:07 remaining as he recorded the hat trick. Play was stopped as dozens of hats, visors and black-and-gold Santa caps rained down onto the ice. Florida's worst loss in franchise history was a 12-2 defeat to Washington in 2003.

Since losing to Montreal on Oct. 29, the Bruins are a stout 20-2-1. Those two regulation losses came to Winnipeg and Florida in consecutive games.

“That's an old fashioned butt kicking. There's really nothing to say,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “I can work though .-.-. I've got nothing. I always try to be a glass-half-full kind of guy but [Friday] there's nothing to say. We were very porous and didn't create any offense. We got our tails handed to us and there's no excuse.''

Boston jumped out to a 4-0 lead before the opening break by scoring two goals in the opening 14 minutes and then two more in the closing 90 seconds of the first period.

The four goals in the opening period is tied for most against the Panthers in one period since the Rangers got four in the second en route to a 6-1 win at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 11.

Jose Theodore, who shut out the Bruins here earlier this month, was pulled after Boston scored four on 14 shots in the opening period. 

“It was a frustrating night whether it's 1-0 or 8-0,'' defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. “We've played a lot of road games, and not to make any excuses, but we're a pretty banged up club. These next couple days off will hopefully get us some bodies back. We need to regroup. We have three big games at home.''

Florida, which lost 4-3 in overtime in Ottawa the night before, go into the Christmas break leading the Southeast Division despite going 2-3-3 since beating the Bruins 2-0 on Dec. 8. 

Boston even saved playoff MVP Tim Thomas, with backup Tuukka Rask stopping all 30 shots for his seventh win of the year. The Bruins came into the night with the second-highest point total in the Eastern Conference and now have four more (47-43) than Florida.

“It was a tough game, they buried us early on their chances and that killed us,'' defenseman Jason Garrison said. “It's hard to create offense against them when you get down. We made a lot of mental errors and take full blame for it.''

Boston started the onslaught early as Marchant scored on a shorthanded chance 5:56 in by beating Theodore on a shot flung from the slot. 

Theodore made 40 saves against the Bruins last time out and was 9-0-1 in his past 10 against the Bruins. On Friday, however, he had no answer for the high-powered Bs. The Panthers were outshot 14-6 in the opening period with the Bruins taking aim 21 times in the first. Scott Clemmensen – who played collegiately at Boston College -- started the second period.

The Panthers had chances to tie it early, but the Bruins made it 2-0 when Milan Lucic took a rebound off the end boards during a power play and put it past Theodore with 6:20 left in the first. Boston then scored twice within a span of 31 seconds as Benoit Pouliot and former Florida defenseman Dennis Seidenberg both put pucks past Theodore.

The beating would continue in the second as Gregory Campbell – who went from Florida to the Bruins in the Nathan Horton deal in 2010 – beat Clemmensen on Boston's 17th shot of the night early in the period.
The Panthers now break for Christmas with the team not getting back on the ice until Monday at 5 p.m.

Florida kicks off a three-game homestand Tuesday against the Maple Leafs. And any thought of the Panthers making some kind of a deal to help out their forward corps is shelved until the NHL-mandated Christmas roster freeze ends Tuesday.

“We just need to get healthy again,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. 


The Panthers played with seven defensemen on Friday after failing to get center Mark Cullen to Boston in time for the game. Cullen, who was expected to play against the Bruins, had travel problems. Florida could have used a extra center with Stephen Weiss out after colliding with Ottawa's Chris Neil and leaving Thursday's game. 

() Dineen said Weiss will benefit from having the next couple of days off after missing Friday's game. Weiss, who is said to have a chest injury, is doubtful for Florida's next game on Tuesday against his hometown Maple Leafs. 

December 21, 2011

Florida Panthers Lose Samuelsson, Sturm; Recall Dadonov and Repik ... Penalties, Like Injuries, Mounting

Cannonball2With the Panthers losing forwards in what has been a daily basis this past week, options are limited.

On Wednesday, Florida recalled Michal Repik and Evgenii Dadonov again as Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm were not on the flight for Thursday's game in Ottawa. 

The Panthers injured list just continues to go as players have been hurt in three straight games. On Friday it was Jack Skille injuring a shoulder against Calgary. On Sunday, Sean Bergenheim hurt his groin against the Hurricanes. Samuelsson and Sturm, who came to the Panthers in the David Booth trade on Oct. 22, left Tuesday's 2-1 loss to the Coyotes. 

Florida has now lost 116 man games to injury; it will be at 122 after Thursday as the Panthers have six NHL forwards on the DL.

“We're not looking to flip bodies and keep moving players in and out of the lineup,'' coach Kevin Dineen said before Tuesday's game. 

After Skille and Bergenheim were hurt in consecutive games, the Panthers went back to their AHL affiliate on Monday to bring back Tim Kennedy, a center who scored 10 goals with 16 assists as a rookie with Buffalo in 2009-10. They also reached out to Bill Thomas, a winger who scored four goals in 24 games with the Panthers last season.

Thomas, unlike Kennedy, Repik or Dadonov, hadn't been called up before this season. One reason was his contractual status. Thomas wasn't offered an NHL contract last summer and instead signed a minor league deal with the Panthers. Trust in the word given by Dale Tallon and Mike Santos were a big reason Thomas decided to return to the Florida family.

Unlike some teams, the Panthers don't promote players from the minors based solely on their draft position or contract. Tallon and Santos say to get to the Panthers, one has to be playing well. Do that, and you will be rewarded. 

Of course, with the Panthers going down as quick as they are, sometimes you take what you have.

“I was in a situation where I didn't know what was going to happen. If they had a contract to give me, they would have,'' Thomas said before playing in 10 shifts in Tuesday's 2-1 loss to Phoenix. “I got the deal in the minors and knew the organization. They told me if something opened up they would give it to me. They've always been honest with me. That's a big reason why I went to San Antonio. I trusted them and it paid off.''

Coachposter() Dineen and Phoenix coach Dave Tippett have been friends for years, both playing for Team Canada as teenagers and starting their NHL careers together with the Hartford Whalers. 

So it's natural that, with Tippett coaching the Dallas Stars for six seasons and Phoenix the past three that the two talked about Dineen becoming his assistant at various times. 

“I always looked at my time in Portland as the best times of our lives,'' said Dineen, who spent the past six seasons as head coach of the AHL Portland Pirates before taking the Florida job in June.

“Opportunities that arose and conversations you had, well, they were good ones. You always weigh your options. Things have worked out well for me.''

() Florida drew seven penalties in Tuesday's loss – many of which were disputed – as the Coyotes only went to the box four times. The penalties were costly, as Phoenix scored both of its goals on the power play. 

In four of the past seven games, Florida has had more Refspenalties (a total of six fewer power plays) than its opponents. Going into Wednesday's games, Florida had been shorthanded 105 times – tied for third fewest in the league. By contrast, the Flyers have been shorthanded 151 times. 

“This is something we have to address because a lot of games are decided by special teams,'' Ed Jovanovski said. “We have to do a better jobs. It's one thing to kill off physical penalties. When you get those hooking and holdings, they seem to end up in your net.''

() Thursday's game is a battle between some of the league's top defensive scorers. Ottawa's Erik Karlsson leads all NHL defensmen with 31 points. Florida's Brian Campbell is second with 26 points. Jason Garrison leads all NHL d-men with 10 goals. 


When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; Scotiabank Place, Ottawa, Ontario

BryanmurrayTV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Senators lead 40-26-3

The game: Florida looked to escape Ottawa with at least a point on Oct. 27 after Kris Versteeg tied the score at 4 with 47.1 seconds left. But the Sens won it 4-3 when Nick Foligno scored with 2.5 seconds left in regulation after following a Daniel Alfredsson rebound. The Panthers have lost four straight at Ottawa. Florida will play its final road game of the 2011 calendar year Friday at Boston.


December 20, 2011

Florida Panthers Have 'Parade of Penalties' Thrown in Their Honor, Coyotes Win 2-1 ... Stephen Weiss Stopped on Doorstep Late

ParadeThe Panthers celebrated the opening night of Hanukkah on Tuesday only they didn't plan on a parade to take place on the ice. A parade to the penalty box, that is.

Florida was called for a season-high seven penalties in a 2-1 loss to Phoenix in front of an announced 17,711 at BankAtlantic Center.

Phoenix scored both of its goals with at least one extra skater – former Panthers winger Ray Whitney's came last in the first on a 5-on-3 – in a game that left many players biting their tongues so not to feel a fine.

Coach Kevin Dineen, however, let the officials know how he felt during the game. Although he didn't completely blame this loss on the refs, he wasn't shy about expressing his displeasure afterward, either.

“I think when I’m screaming like a fool on the bench, what you do is set a precedent with the referees,'' Dineen said afterward. “So I’ll hang myself on that one because what we’re trying to do is get a lot of hits to the head out of the game and there were so Disneymany plays I felt were dangerous plays. .-.-. The game obviously became lopsided. Very disappointed with the officiating tonight.''

Phoenix, which had lost four of five, looked a little weary early on as the Coyotes just seemed to be enjoying the holiday skate. But late in the period, Shawn Matthias went to the box on  questionable inference call on goalie Mike Smith before Kris Versteeg was flagged for slashing.

The Coyotes cashed in on the lengthy 5-on-3 chance with Whitney scoring from the left side with 6.8 seconds left in the period. 

“A lot of guys didn't get their first shifts until late,'' Matthias said. “I'm not going to comment on the calls, but it was frustrating.''

Phoenix made it 2-0 midway through the second when Erik Gudbranson went to the box on a delay of game. Radim Vrbata shot from the left side, the puck poking through Jose Theodore's legs and through. 

The officials called just one 'physical' call – elbowing on Phoenix's Martin Hanzal just 1:18 into the game – but let a hard blow from Shane Doan to Florida's Mikael Samuelsson go. Samuelsson hit the ice and was down for a few moments. He came back up obviously groggy and had to be helped off the ice. He didn't return and could miss some playing time. Doan was not called for a penalty as the Coyotes were called for four.

“He caught him with his shoulder and [Samuelsson] far away from the boards,'' Dineen said. “That one is a hockey hit and I don’t have a problem when guys hit with your shoulders, but when you’re following through to the head that’s what the real issue was tonight and it’s the job of the officials to help protect our players.”

The Panthers made it a game late in the second when Brian Campbell whipped a shot while sliding into the slot past Smith with 1:18 left. Smith would leave the game with an apparent groin injury after making 19 stops. Jason LaBarbera came in and stopped all eight shots he faced – not including a penalty shot from Stephen Weiss after two Coyotes knocked the cage off its moorings with 24.5 left. 

Weiss' shot slipped past LaBarbera but stopped right on the goal line – just a inch short of where it needed to be to earn Florida a certain point in the standings. Florida has now played in 13 straight one-goal games at home as its eight-game home streak with at least a point came to a close.

“We haven't had a game like that in a while,'' Weiss said. “We had to battle just to stay in the game. Our penalty killers did it. We had a chance in the third, we just couldn't find one. I was just an inch short [on the penalty shot]. I would like that one back that's for sure.''


Bill Thomas wasn't happy that he wasn't offered an NHL contract over the summer, not after he played in 24 games (four goals, three assists) with the Panthers last season. When Florida offered the 28-year-old winger a minor league contract, he accepted it and moved on. 

On Monday, he agreed to a one-year deal with the Panthers and joined the team for Tuesday's game. 

“He wasn't able to get an NHL contract, and I told him if he played well enough he would earn his NHL contract,'' assistant general manager Mike Santos said. “That's what he did. He started a little slow but really picked it up. He's been good the past few weeks.''