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Florida Panthers Practice a Colorful Affair but Light Blue Ain't Cool ... Mike Santorelli, Keaton Ellerby Keep the Faith, Keep Working

Pantherspractice3BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

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The Panthers have some pretty colorful practice jerseys with all the cool kids wearing either a red, white, yellow or blue jersey during workouts. Even though it clashes with everything, the Kelly green one is OK as well.

No one, however, wants to wear the light blue jersey with the big cat on the front. 

For if you are saddled wearing the Carolina blue practice jersey, it means you aren't in the Panthers plans. At least not right now.

PantherspracticeMike Santorelli has been sporting the light blue day after day. A breakout season in which he scored 20 goals in 82 games for the Panthers last year has bled into a disappointing one this time around. 

Santorelli, who signed a two-year deal worth $3.2 million in July, has been a healthy scratch nine straight games and in 12 of the past 13. He hasn't played since March 21. 

With the playoffs opening Friday against the Devils, Santorelli – as well as the likes of Krys Barch, Keaton Ellerby and others – have to keep their spirits up and their workouts long. Barch was practicing on the fourth line (and thereby wearing green) on Monday as Marco Sturm was out.

“Being part of being a professional is going out and execute in practice and stay sharp,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “Our job, as a coaching staff, is knowing there are going to be some days when it's not easy for those guys. Sometimes you cut them a little slack. Other times you put the hammer down and make sure they are keeping their skills sharp. Things happen so quick in the playoffs. We're expecting an extremely physical, hard-fought game every night. You need a whole army.''

Florida's scratched players all know the Panthers just have too many players as injuries during the season forced general manager Dale Tallon to bring in new players as others were on the mend. Now, the Panthers are in a pretty good spot. Having too many healthy players in the playoffs is a great place to be.
Well, not for everyone.

Santorelli1“I just have to keep working hard and stay in shape so I'm ready for my chance,'' said Santorelli, who roamed Florida's crazy locker room following Saturday's win wearing a division championship hat celebrating with his teammates. “No one likes not being in the lineup so you have to worry about yourself and make sure you are ready. And I'm ecstatic about how the team has done. We're very close. It was a great win and it felt nice.''

Although Santorelli has been joined at different times the past few weeks by Barch, Jerred Smithson, Shawn Matthias and Marco Sturm, the person who best knows how he is feeling is Ellerby. Florida's first round pick in 2007, Ellerby has played well the past two seasons but has lost the numbers game as the seventh defenseman. 

“You can go through the motions or you can stay sharp and ready,'' Dineen said. “You wait for the opportunity and when it knocks – whether its the team getting home ice – or a player getting into the lineup, you want to make a statement and make a good case for yourself to stay.''

EllerbyEllerby has played in 94 games over the past two seasons but was scratched for the final 12 of this regular season. Since he's the seventh defenseman on a team that uses six, he's one injury away from being back in the thick of things. He swears he wishes no ill will on any of his teammates. It's hard not to believe him. Ellerby, by all accounts, is a great teammate.

His time will come. 

“If I'm told to go in, I'm going to be ready. Until then, I'm here to support the team any way I can,'' Ellerby said. “I'm a supportive guy. But there are ups and downs. It sucks being out of the lineup. But I can't be all down and complaining, feeling sorry for myself. I'm staying in game shape. If they need me, I'm ready to jump into the lineup. They know that. I appreciate the support the coaches and management have given me. It's nice to know the support is there.''

() With almost a week between games, the Panthers aren't the only ones with plenty of rest. The Devils have the same schedule. Florida and New Jersey are the last teams to kick off the 2012 playoffs. Three series begin on Wednesday. 

"We haven't had four full practice days in a long time,'' coach Pete DeBoer told the (Newark) Star-Ledger, “so you take what you're given and we'll make the most of it. From my understanding it's all TV based. We've got some meetings. It gives us more opportunity to take our time and spread the information out a little bit. Get into some more detail on things.''


Pantherspractice2What: Panthers playoff practice; Wednesday, 10:30 a.m.

Where: Saveology.com Iceplex; 3299 Sportsplex Drive, Coral Springs. (954) 341-9956. 

Admission: Free

(*) Practice photos courtesy Kelsey Hinds; player photos from Miami Herald staff/AP