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57 posts from January 2013

January 18, 2013

READY FOR MORE: #FlaPanthers Go on Defensive, Try to Repeat in the Southeast

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The last time the Panthers hoisted a banner to the ceiling to celebrate an on-ice accomplishment, those rafters belonged to the Miami Arena.

Florida hasn't been able to celebrate much of anything since winning the Eastern Conference finals and heading to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals. On Saturday, the Panthers add a second banner to the rafters as the 2011-12 Southeast Division championship flag is flown for the first time.

The Panthers, who ended a decade-long drought by winning their first divisional title last year, enter this abbreviated 48-game season as the hunted. To say the franchise isn't used to this role is understated.

"We won the division in Washington and teams within the division mention it. They want to knock off the champions,'' goalie Jose Theodore said.

"Teams come prepared. In the first half last year, I think we surprised some people. In the second half, we didn't. Teams played us much harder. They will from the start this year. We need to be ready. It's not going to be easy. There are no days off.''

The Panthers come into the 2013 season looking much like they did in 2012. The Panthers' season ended last year when New Jersey ended a classic first-round series by winning Game 7 in double overtime.

Florida didn't lose much from that team save for the booming slap shot of defenseman Jason Garrison (left for Vancouver) and the gritty play of Mikael Samuelsson (Detroit).

The Panthers bring back their two goalies (Theodore and Scott Clemmensen), potentially added some scoring punch in 39-year-old Alex Kovalev, Peter Mueller and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau as well as replaced Garrison with veteran Filip Kuba.

"Look around this room,'' Mueller said the other day. "I'm telling you, we have some talent here.''

Yet the Panthers aren't picked by many to repeat as Southeast Division champions.

"If you watch some of the preseason shows, which I do, you can get a feel for where other teams are,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "I don't think we're looked upon too highly around the league. That is fine. We're used to that. We're going to start in Game 1 and move forward from there.''

The Panthers played a gritty style of hockey last season as they took the third overall seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs despite ending the season ranked 27th in goals and lost more overtime games (18) than any other team in the league.

Florida hope it helped its shootout problems by adding specialists Kovalev and Mueller while expecting similar production from players like Tomas Fleischmann, Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg as all three put up career offensive numbers.

The Panthers also hope for more from Scottie Upshall and Jack Skille as both spent big chunks of last season on the injured list.

On Saturday, last year gets put in the past. The Panthers are going to enjoy the pregame ceremony for a second -- then reality will hit them square in the jaw. Carolina, a team the Panthers beat five of six times last season, has a revamped roster in hopes of making sure the Panthers don't repeat.

"We don't have the elephant in the room that we did in previous years and that can free you up a little bit,'' Stephen Weiss said referring to the Panthers' NHL record for postseason drought.

"We will enjoy on the ceremony for a minute, reflect on last season and then we move on. We're going to focus on this season and the challenges of this season. We want to do it again.''

#FlaPanthers Friday Notebook: Kulikov Signed, Could Play in Place of Weaver v Hurricanes ... Versteeg Questionable, Santorelli In? ... Cats Lose Wright to Jets ... Hello Michael Caruso

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers signed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to a two-year deal and will likely use him in Saturday's home opener.

Kulikov's contract was submitted to the NHL before Friday's 5 p.m. deadline and should be approved Saturday.

Dineen said he's not worried about Kulikov's physical shape and says Kulikov knows the Florida system well enough that he can be thrown into game action at a moments notice.

"I'm taking every option I have to help us win,'' Dineen said.

Mike Weaver, Dineen said, suffered a slight concussion during Wednesday's scrimmage and is questionable for Saturday. That allowed Mike Caruso to make Florida's 23-man roster to start the season. Rookie Alex Petrovic was sent back to San Antonio.

"I've been thinking about this day for a long time,'' said Caruso, who is in his fifth year within the Panthers organization but has yet to make his NHL debut. "I've worked hard at it, have been putting in the time. This would be a dream come true. I've felt ready for this. It's just a matter of getting my foot in the door.''

-- Center Mike Santorelli cleared waivers Friday and could be in the lineup against the Hurricanes. Winger Kris Versteeg left the ice during Friday's practice and is questionable.

Florida did lose winger James Wright -- who has a one-way deal for next season -- to Winnipeg as the Jets claimed him off waivers. The Panthers planned to assign Wright to AHL San Antonio.

-- Veteran winger Alex Kovalev signed a one-year deal with the Panthers worth around $600,000 after being pro-rated because of the lockout. Kovalev spent last season in the KHL after splitting the 2010-11 season with Ottawa and Pittsburgh.

The 39-year-old Kovalev is the last remaining active player from the 1994 Stanley Cup champion Rangers.

"It's been a long time. I didn't think I would get another chance to play in the NHL after I left for Russia,'' Kovalev said. "I kept my hopes alive and this is where I want to finish my career. I'm glad this organization gave me a chance.''

CAPTAIN JOVO COP: #FlaPanthers Name Ed Jovanovski 7th Team Captain

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When Ed Jovanovski came into the locker room after Friday morning's practice, an issue of The Hockey News from 1994 was plastered on the team's dry erase board.

Jovanovski, then just two days past his 18th birthday, was featured on the cover squeezing an orange -- celebrated by the magazine as the top pick of the 1994 NHL draft by the Panthers.

Now 36, Jovanovski has come far since that photo was taken.

On Friday, he was named captain of the team that drafted him 19 years ago.

"I think it's every kid's dream at some point to captain a team,'' said Jovanovski, who becomes Florida's seventh captain in franchise history and first since Bryan McCabe was traded to the Rangers in 2011.

"I've been very fortunate to be an assistant captain throughout my career. To be a captain here is special. This is the team that drafted me, I began my career here. This is the team I'm looking to finish with.''

Florida played without a captain last season as coach Kevin Dineen decided to go with four alternate captains in Jovanovski, Stephen Weiss, Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky. Dineen said he chose Jovanovski over Weiss. Campbell and Weiss will serve as assistant captains.

Dineen announced the captaincy when he gathered the team around him at the end of Friday's workout at BB&T Center. Jovanovski's teammates banged their sticks on the ice afterward and surrounded him to offer their congratulations.

"We're definitely happy for Jovo. He deserves it,'' Weiss said.

CAPTAIN JOVO COP: #FlaPanthers Name Ed Jovanovski 7th Team Captain

#FlaPanthers Thursday Notebook: Kulikov Deal Reportedly Done ... Santorelli Waived, Kovalev In ... Open Practice at the Arena

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers are on the verge of signing restricted free agent Dmitry Kulikov to a two-year deal as reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Assistant general manager Mike Santos said Thursday evening that a deal was not done as of yet.

"There are a lot of hoops to jump through,'' he said.

Kulikov, 22, is expected to take his physical on Friday and could be added to the active roster and play Saturday against Carolina.

Without Kulikov, Florida could be looking at starting the season shorthanded.

Although Ed Jovanovski was back at practice Wednesday after missing two days, Mike Weaver was out after apparently pulling something during Wednesday's scrimmage. "He's a question mark on the very short-term,'' Dineen said.

The Panthers are also looking at starting the season without Erik Gudbranson as he recovers from shoulder surgery performed in Sept.

Rookie Alex Petrovic could stick around as the seventh defenseman in case Kulikov or Weaver isn't ready to go.

-- The Panthers trimmed the roster by sending five players (Quinton Howden, Jacob Markstrom, Jon Rheault, Colby Robak and Drew Shore) back to AHL San Antonio.

Florida also released veteran Marek Svatos from his try out and placed Mike Santorelli on waivers.

The Panthers have to be at 23 players by 3 p.m. but could have Gudbranson, Marcel Goc and Sean Bergenheim start the season on injured reserve.

Florida will sign 39-year-old Alex Kovalev to a one-year deal on Friday.

-- Florida will hold its final workout of the abbreviated training camp Friday -- and will do so at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. The public is invited to attend the free event at the arena.

The Panthers haven't been in their locker room since losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals to the Devils in April. Dineen still has the Devils' lineup written on the dry erase board inside his arena office.

"It's been a long time. I went to a boxing match [at the arena], saw Neil Diamond,'' Dineen said. "But it will be good to see our guys on that ice.''

-- The Panthers said less than 1,000 tickets remain for Saturday's season opener against Carolina.

PANTHERS TRAINING CAMP
-- When, Where: Friday, 10 a.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
-- Admission: Free
-- Directions: The BB&T Center, formerly the BankAtlantic Center, is located on 136th Ave. across from the Sawgrass Mills Mall in Sunrise.
-- Season Opener: Saturday vs. Carolina; BB&T Center, Sunrise, 7:30 p.m.

LINE DANCE: #FlaPanthers Hope for Big Things From New Fourth Line

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The New Jersey Devils showed just how valuable a fourth line can be as the trio of Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta combined for 10 goals and 21 assists to help Pete DeBoer's squad reach the Stanley Cup Finals last summer.

The Panthers can only hope to have such success with an all-new fourth unit this season as newcomer George Parros joins center Jarred Smithson and left winger Jack Skille.

Coincidentally, Carter played for the Panthers before being waived last season; Bernier was let go by the Panthers after the 2010-11 season.

Although Skille and Smithson were with the Panthers last year, they never played together as Skille was out with a shoulder injury when Smithson came over in a trade with Nashville.

Despite the newness of the group, the trio looks like they've been playing together for a long time.

"They are big bodies and they all can skate,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "They give us some heftiness which you like to have. You can have a lot of big guys, but if they can't skate, you're going to be in trouble. I like that each of them can play a specific role and they've developed a little chemistry.''

Said Skille: "We all play north-south hockey and don't take too many risks. We want to be an energy line and keep things simple. We're going to use our body, amp the team up.''

Last season was a frustrating one for as he was shelved three different times due to a shoulder injury and was limited to 46 games. The final injury, which came on March 9, knocked him out for the rest of the season and cost him trip to the playoffs.

Skille said Thursday that the shoulder felt good as he played a little during the lockout in Norway to test it out. Skille also worked out at the University of Wisconsin and came into camp in excellent shape.

"I was ready to go but I used the [lockout] time to my advantage,'' Skille said. "I really gave my shoulder a good test in Norway. Then I worked on things I need to be better at.''

January 16, 2013

CLEMMENSEN'S NEW BUCKET: #FlaPanthers G Gets New Mask

Scott Clemmensen has a new tropical mask with sun bursts on one side and a compass on the other.

He has, as always, his Jimmy Buffett parrot as well as the initials for his wife and two daughters.

CLEMMENSEN'S NEW BUCKET: #FlaPanthers G Gets New Mask

CLEMMENSEN'S NEW BUCKET: #FlaPanthers G Gets New Mask

CLEMMENSEN'S NEW BUCKET: #FlaPanthers G Gets New Mask

CLEMMENSEN'S NEW BUCKET: #FlaPanthers G Gets New Mask

#FlaPanthers Wednesday Notebook: Bergenheim Suspended ... Kulikov Talks Back On ... Hello Colby Robak

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

As expected, the Panthers suspended forward Sean Bergenheim as he hasn't been medically cleared to play after being injured during the lockout.

NHL teams are allowed to suspend players - without pay -- who were hurt and unable to play while doing so for another team or country during the lockout.

Defenseman Erik Gudbranson -- who hurt his shoulder snowboarding -- and center Marcel Goc (ankle) have also been suspended.

Once they are cleared to play, they will be reinstated to the team. Gudbranson is working out with the Panthers and Goc is rehabbing with the team.

Its believed Bergenheim injured his groin in just his second game playing for a professional team in his hometown of Helsinki, Finland, in October. Assistant general manager Mike Santos said he didn't know the severity of the injury although he wasn't told that Bergenheim requires surgery.

-- The Panthers recalled defenseman Colby Robak from AHL San Antonio late Tuesday to replace veteran Ed Jovanovski. Jovanovski missed work for the second straight day after Santos said he was nicked up in Monday's initial workout.

Robak played in three games with the Panthers last year and has 18 points in 40 games for the Rampage this season.

-- Santos said he spoke to the agent for unsigned restricted free agent Dmitry Kulikov on two occasions yet didn't have any progress to report. The Panthers own Kulikov's NHL rights and he is no longer on the roster of his hometown team in Russia.

-- Fox Sports Florida announced Tuesday that it would broadcast all 48 games this season between FSN and Sun Sports. FSN will carry 42 games with Sun getting six in April during conflicts with the Marlins.

"The new contract between Fox and the Panthers is great for the fans,'' play-by-play voice Steve Goldstein said. "There's going to be more hockey than we've ever seen in South Florida. The commitment going into the broadcasts is great.''

PANTHERS TRAINING CAMP
-- When, Where: Thursday, 10 a.m.; Saveology.com Iceplex, Coral Springs
-- Admission: Free
-- Directions: The Iceplex is located one-half mile east of the Sawgrass Expressway off Sample Road and Sportsplex Drive.
-- Season Opener: Saturday vs. Carolina; BB&T Center, Sunrise, 7:30 p.m.

A SCORELESS SCRIMMAGE: #FlaPanthers Goalies Look Good -- As Usual

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers finished 27th in the 30-team National Hockey League in goals scored last season.

Was anyone expecting them to transform overnight?

Florida held a 40-minute scrimmage in Coral Springs on Wednesday night and no one in the red home jerseys nor anyone in the white road jerseys scored a goal.

The Panthers goaltending, however, was good as usual.

"I was really happy with the goaltending,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "There were some quality scoring chances that the goalies had to make big saves on. They both look like they are ready to go. We accomplished everything we wanted.''

Florida's two goalies -- Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen -- didn't give up a goal in either of the two, 15-minute periods nor the two five-minute overtime sessions.

There were some goals scored during the shootout exhibitions that followed each regular period but, hey, those didn't count.

The Panthers, like the rest of the NHL, will not play any preseason games before opening up the regular season this weekend. For the Panthers, Wednesday will be their final taste of game-like conditions before the lights go on for real Saturday against the Hurricanes.

"It was fun to have a game kind of,'' Theodore said. "Playing at 7 really changed it up, get ready for the regular season. It was fun. It's a building process and it's going to happen quick.''

Theodore and Clemmensen were one of the top goalie combos in the league last season and helped lead Florida to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Yet this offseason, most of the talk surrounding the Panthers involved a rumored return of All-Star goalie Roberto Luongo.

As of Wednesday, Luongo -- who still lives a few miles away from the Iceplex -- remained in Vancouver preparing for the Canucks' season opener.

Are Theodore and Clemmensen playing with a touch of attitude thanks to all the Luongo talk?

"I would,'' Dineen said. "If someone keeps on talking about someone else who is a world-class player, I would say, 'you know what? Bring it on.' You are talking about professional athletes. They know what the situation is. They can't wait to get the season started.''

January 15, 2013

Tuesday's #FlaPanthers Notebook: Cats, Kulikov 'Not Close' to Deal ... Gudbranson Practices, Jovo Does Not ... Scrimmage Wednesday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Mike Santos, the Panthers' assistant general manager, said Tuesday morning that he hadn't spoken to Dmitry Kulikov's agent "in the past 48 hours.''

Kulikov, an unsigned restricted free agent, remained on the roster for Yaroslavl Lokamotiv of the KHL although he wasn't in the lineup for Tuesday night's game.

Santos said as a free agent, Kulikov was free to play in the KHL although the Panthers own his NHL rights. There has been talk that Kulikov is on his way back from Russia although Santos said he didn't know where he was.

Kulikov could be signed to an offer sheet from another NHL team but the Panthers would be able to match it.

"I wouldn't consider it close but we're going to keep working at it,'' Santos said. "I would like to get him signed.''

-- Defenseman Erik Gudbranson practiced with the Panthers but remains suspended by the team until he is cleared to play in a game.

Gudbranson injured his shoulder wakeboarding in Canada during the offseason and could start the season playing with Florida's AHL team in San Antonio.

"There's no plan right now,'' Santos said. "We're in a short training camp and it's a numbers game here right now. We'll see when he's ready to go. It could be the end of the week, it could be longer. I don't know.''

-- The Panthers will hold a full inter-squad scrimmage Wednesday night at their training facility. Dineen said goalies Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen would see extensive action.

-- Ed Jovanovski didn't practice Tuesday. "I want to make sure he's good to go on Saturday night,'' Dineen said.

PANTHERS TRAINING CAMP
-- When, Where: Wednesday, 7 p.m.; Saveology.com Iceplex, Coral Springs
-- Admission: Free
-- Directions: The Iceplex is located one-half mile east of the Sawgrass Expressway off Sample Road and Sportsplex Drive.
-- Season Opener: Saturday vs. Carolina; BB&T Center, Sunrise, 7:30 p.m.

SHOOTOUT!: #FlaPanthers Hope to Be Better at Them

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Had the Panthers been a little better in overtime and games decided by shootouts last season, perhaps they wouldn't have had to sweat out making the playoffs at the end of last season.

Florida went 6-11 in shootout games last season as it edged Washington for the Southeast Division title by two points.

A few more shootout wins -- and taking the extra point that comes with a victory -- would have added up and made things substantially easier.

By bringing in a few skilled forwards -- like Alex Kovalev, Peter Mueller, Marek Svatos and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau -- the Panthers hope to have rectified that problem.

"High-end skill is something you look forward to seeing in a shootout,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "We have some quality options. We were not a good shootout team last year, didn't have a good overtime record. There's an area we're looking at trying to pick up and be more effective.''

The Panthers were near the bottom of the league in shootout winning percentage as their 11 losses were second-most behind Montreal (12).

Florida's 13 goals was tied for 15th, although its shooting percentage of 22.4 percent was 25th.

"Shootouts are big because they've taken over the game,'' said Mueller, who has been successful on 41 percent of his shootout chances over his career.

"You look back and it's the difference between teams in the playoffs. It can go either way. But you have to go in with the mindset that we're getting those two points.''

Kovalev is 19 for 47 (40 percent) and scored on four of 10 chances with Ottawa and Pittsburgh two seasons ago. Svatos has hit on 12 of 35 (34 percent) while Huberdeau was an impressive 10-for-12 in the past three seasons in the Quebec junior league.

Last year, Stephen Weiss hit on three of eight shootout shots; Kris Versteeg and Marcel Goc were a combined 2-for-15.

"I have a great record in shootouts, but the goalies are a little better here in the NHL,'' Huberdeau said with a smile. "But you know, I'm going to make my move and see what happens if I get the call.''

Kovalev has been most impressive in shootouts since the practice was introduced to the NHL following the previous lockout in 2005.

Although he is pretty good at them, Kovalev doesn't particularly like the shootout and says he liked the old way of settling NHL regular season games: five minutes of overtime with the game ending in a tie if no one scored during that span. Kovalev added that if was in charge, he would get rid of shootouts.

"I'm not a big fan of the shootout but I know they want more points, more fun for the fans,'' Kovalev said. "Hopefully we don't go to many shootouts. We want to win in regulation. But I know what I need to do. I know I can help. You go first and score, it elevates the other shooters, your goalie. Points are just to valuable to waste.''

January 14, 2013

#FlaPanthers Monday Notebook: Huberdeau Takes Day Off, OK; Injury Updates (Kind Of) for Gudbranson, Goc and Bergenheim

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Rookie forward Jonathan Huberdeau didn't practice Monday as the Panthers gave him a day off because of what coach Kevin Dineen described as "a few aches and pains" coming off the World Junior Championship tournament in Russia.

GM Dale Tallon said Huberdeau would be on the ice Tuesday.

"It was a minor little thing we had to get checked out by the doctors,'' Tallon said. "He's ready to go.''

-- Dineen said defenseman Erik Gudbranson (shoulder) and center Marcel Goc (ankle) will miss at least the first three games of the season.

Tallon said the extent of Sean Bergenheim's injury -- he was hurt on Oct. 2 playing in Finland -- isn't immediately known.

Gudbranson isn't being paid by the team because he was hurt wakeboarding in Canada in September; Goc was hurt playing for a German team during the Spengler Cup and Tallon said he isn't being paid until he is medically cleared either.

With Goc out, Dineen said he would use Peter Mueller at center. On Monday, he centered the second line with veteran right winger Alex Kovalev -- who is in camp trying out for a contract. Huberdeau is expected to be on the left side of that line.

-- Tallon said assistant general manager Mike Santos has taken over the negotiations with the agent for restricted free agent Dmitry Kulikov.

"Mike is really good at what he does,'' Tallon said. "I'm sure he'll get him done.''

PANTHERS TRAINING CAMP
-- When, Where: Tuesday, 10 a.m.; Saveology.com Iceplex, Coral Springs
-- Admission: Free
-- Directions: The Iceplex is located one-half mile east of the Sawgrass Expressway off Sample Road and Sportsplex Drive.
-- Season Opener: Saturday vs. Carolina; BB&T Center, Sunrise, 7:30 p.m.

Photos courtesy of KELSEY HINDS/Special to On Frozen Pond

#FlaPanthers Monday Notebook: Huberdeau Takes Day Off, OK; Injury Updates (Kind Of) for Gudbranson, Goc and Bergenheim

#FlaPanthers Monday Notebook: Huberdeau Takes Day Off, OK; Injury Updates (Kind Of) for Gudbranson, Goc and Bergenheim

VIVA KUBA: Filip Kuba Back For More with the Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Filip Kuba was standing in a hallway in the Panthers training facility Sunday morning when radio voice Randy Moller approached him.

"Did you ever think you would be back here?'' Moller asked. "Sometimes things come full circle. Life is funny that way.''

Kuba smiled and nodded, acknowledging that the last time he was wore a Panthers jersey was quite a long time ago.

Drafted in the eighth round by the Panthers in 1995, Kuba spent four seasons in the organization including 18 games with the Panthers over two seasons from 1998-2000.

Then he was traded to Calgary before being claimed by Minnesota in the expansion draft of 2000 at the age of 23.

Now 36, Kuba has seen quite a bit since the Panthers got rid of him as the defenseman has played in 792 NHL games with Florida, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Ottawa.

"Obviously, when I got moved it was something I didn't like and was sour about,'' Kuba said after his first practice with the Panthers in 13 years.

"But I got a chance in Minnesota. I really didn't think about what was going on here. I was out west. But the past few years I have been watching.''

The Panthers brought Kuba back in July, signing the Tampa resident to a two-year deal worth $8 million.

Since Kuba was traded away for the lightly-used Rocky Thompson, the team has changed ownership three times -- H. Wayne Huizenga's Boca Resorts group controlled the team in 2000 -- and has had one front office change after another.

Kevin Dineen is the eighth coach the Panthers have had since Kuba left; Dale Tallon is the eighth general manager.

Those rudderless days seem to be behind the Panthers, one reason Kuba was attracted to come back as a free agent. Moller, in fact, is one of the few recognizable faces left from 2000.

"The organization is going in the right direction,'' he said. "That's a big reason why I'm here.''

On Monday, Kuba was paired up with veteran Brian Campbell. Florida signed Kuba to replace Jason Garrison -- who signed with Vancouver a few hours after Kuba came to the Panthers.

Kuba didn't take Garrison's number (the 52 went to Jon Rheault) but did take his locker and a spot opposite the slick passing Campbell.

"We were trying to talk on the bench after shifts, talk about things I like and he likes,'' Campbell said. "It's a challenge, but it was like that last year. .-.-. It's early yet but I have confidence in things. He reminds me of players I've played with in the past. It'll be a little adjustment but we'll be fine.''

Tallon, a strong defenseman in his day, joked that Campbell is so smooth "I could play with him.'' Kuba, Tallon says, won't have a problem fitting in.

"He and Brian looked like they've been playing together all their lives,'' Tallon said. "It looks good.''

Photo courtesy of Kelsey Hinds -- Special to On Frozen Pond

VIVA KUBA: Filip Kuba Back For More with the Panthers

OUT WITH THE OLD: #FlaPanthers Change Up Banners at Arena

It appears as if the Panthers have done some renovations to the rafters of the BB&T Center.

Gone is the NCRC opening night which featured Celine Dion; gone, too, is the old 1996 Eastern Conference championship banner that was raised to the rafters at Miami Arena and brought north in 1998.

The Panthers replaced the 1996 banner and the Bill Torrey '93 banner (last picture) with new ones, most likely so they match the 2011-12 Southeast Division championship banner that goes up Saturday.

A good number of teams try to have all of their banners match -- the Heat do as well -- although I kind of like the mismatched look. I would rather see the banner that was raised at the time (and the logo from that era) than have a cookie-cutter look.

Anyway, it looks like the 1993-94 expansion banner (that also once graced the rafters in Miami) was taken down as well.

OUT WITH THE OLD: #FlaPanthers Change Up Banners at Arena

OUT WITH THE OLD: #FlaPanthers Change Up Banners at Arena

OUT WITH THE OLD: #FlaPanthers Change Up Banners at Arena

SUNRISE ICE: #FlaPanthers Arena Surface Taking Shape

The ice crew in Sunrise has been working hard to make sure the Panthers have a nice sheet for Saturday's opener.

Things are looking good so far.

Although it's not done, the ice is looking good.

The Panthers open the 2013 season Saturday night against the visiting Hurricanes at BB&T Center.

SUNRISE ICE: #FlaPanthers Arena Surface Taking Shape

SUNRISE ICE: #FlaPanthers Arena Surface Taking Shape

SUNRISE ICE: #FlaPanthers Arena Surface Taking Shape

MONDAY'S TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE; With Roster

Panthers are ON ICE at the Coral Springs Iceplex, 10 a.m.

Admission is free.

Team is using two sheets of ice.

ROSTER

4 - Keaton Ellerby
9 - Stephen Weiss
11 - Jonathan Huberdeau
12 - Jack Skille
13 - Mike Santorelli
14 - Tomas Fleischmann
17 - Filip Kuba
18 - Shawn Matthias
19 - Scottie Upshall
20 - Sean Bergenheim
22 - George Parros
23 - Tyson Strachan
25 - Jerred Smithson
27 - Alex Kovalev
30 - Scott Clemmensen
32 - Kris Versteeg
35 - Jacob Markstrom
40 - Marek Svatos
41 - James Wright
42 - Quinton Howden
43 - Mike Weaver
44 - Erik Gudbranson
50 - Drew Shore
51 - Brian Campbell
52 - Jon Rheault
55 - Ed Jovanovski
57 - Marcel Goc
60 - Jose Theodore
62 - Michael Caruso
72 - Alexander Petrovic
82 - Tomas Kopecky
88 - Peter Mueller

January 13, 2013

HOPE FOR HUBERDEAU: Panthers Rookie Looking to Make His Mark

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When Jonathan Huberdeau attended the Panthers developmental camp in July, he hoped his days of playing junior hockey were over.

Had there been no NHL lockout, had training camp started on time back in September, they probably were.

Yet on Sept. 16, NHL players found themselves without a home. Huberdeau, Florida's newest hot-shot can't-miss prospect, returned to his junior team in Quebec. Those days of getting his chance with the Panthers were postponed.

Monday, Huberdeau gets his shot.

Fans aren't the only ones excited to see what the talented 19-year-old has to offer.

"I think he's a really good player, a guy who is going to be a star in this league,'' teammate Tomas Kopecky said.

"He has all the skills. He is very skilled, very fast. The first couple of games may take some adjustment around the corners. But he's a very smart hockey player. He'll figure it out.''

Huberdeau, given the No. 11 he starred in for Saint Johns of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, will be one of the most highly watched players when the Panthers hit the ice for the first official time in 2013.

The Panthers expect Huberdeau to give them some added scoring as that is what he does. Huberdeau, the third overall pick in 2011, led the Panthers in scoring last preseason before being sent back to Quebec.

Florida isn't expecting the 43 goals he scored for Saint John two years ago in leading the Sea Dogs to the Memorial Cup nor the 62 assists he tallied.

The Panthers sure would like a taste of that kind of production, however.

"He's a team-first kind of guy, a real warrior on the ice,'' said Scott Luce, the Panthers director of amateur scouting. "He leads by example and is a character guy. He's excited to be in Florida. This is where he's wanted to be from the start.''

Coach Kevin Dineen was impressed with Huberdeau's game at training camp in 2011 and said it was hard to send him back.

The Panthers decided sending him back was what was best for his long-term development, however, as another year in junior would be good for seasoning and for his physical development.

Dale Tallon wasn't thinking about a lockout that spanned five months, however, when they made that decision.

"He's much stronger on his skates,'' Luce said. "Guys are having a hard time handling him.''

As much as Huberdeau wanted to be with the Panthers last year, he understood why Florida did what it did. Huberdeau will be given the chance to stay with the team for the season if he looks strong in camp and in the first handful of games.

Florida can still send Huberdeau back to finish his final season of junior eligibility -- yet no one thinks they will.

This is an opportunity Huberdeau has been waiting for -- and says he's not going to squander.

"Last year went pretty well for me. I'm going to work even harder and do anything I can to make this team,'' Huberdeau said after taking his camp physical on Sunday.

"I'm here and I'm going to work hard. I want to stay here. I don't want to go back to junior. This is an important week. We have a lot of great veteran players who are going to help me get through it.''

Dineen said Sunday that he would play Huberdeau at left wing although his line mates haven't been determined yet. Don't expect to see Huberdeau mucking it up on the fourth line, however.

The Panthers are looking for him to do some magic with the puck and could line him up with Stephen Weiss or Marcel Goc.

"I will put him in situations where he has opportunity to use his skills and have success in whatever that role may be,'' Dineen said.

"We're enthused to have him come in here. He has some games to really make a statement with his game. We're going to get a good little look at him against NHL talent. We'll go from there.''

#FlaPanthers Sunday Notebook: Dmitry Kulikov Missing from Start of Camp ... Dineen to Name Captain This Week ... Monday's Schedule

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers released their 32-man training camp roster late Saturday night with one glaring omission.

Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov isn't at camp as he remains an unsigned restricted free agent. Kulikov went to Russia to play for Yaroslavl Lokamotiv, his childhood team, and is reportedly still in his hometown.

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon didn't speak to the media on Sunday but said Thursday that he was speaking to Kulikov's agent on a daily basis. Coach Kevin Dineen said he expects Tallon to clarify the issue in the coming days.

Kulikov remains the property of the Panthers as he just completed his third NHL season. Kulikov has three goals and three assists in 22 games for Lokomotiv.

"I'm a big Dmitry fan,'' Dineen said after Florida's start of camp on Sunday morning. "I thought he really did a good job. He's very young in his development. Defensemen take a little time to develop, same as goalies. .-.-. He's really on track and is a player we envision having a long and successful NHL career.''

Kulikov, 22, said before leaving for Russia that he wanted to return to the Panthers and had no desire to play in the KHL. Kulikov, the 14th overall pick in 2009, bought himself out of his contract with Lokomotiv when he was 18 allowing him to start that season as a rookie with the Panthers.

The Panthers will hold their first official practice since last year's playoffs on Monday morning and will likely do so without two of their top defensemen.

Not only is Kulikov expected to be out, but it's not known whether Erik Gudbranson's surgically repaired shoulder has been cleared for practice. Gudbranson said he feels good but wouldn't comment further.

"You are missing two top players for us last year,'' Dineen said. "I'll deal with it and we'll be fine. But am I comfortable with it? No. I want nine quality defensemen. I'm a better coach with those two in the lineup, I just am.''

-- Winger Sean Bergenheim was back at the Panthers' training facility in Coral Springs on Sunday but said he couldn't comment about a potential groin injury suffered while playing in Finland early on in the lockout.

Bergenheim was slowed by a groin injury last year; After working out in South Florida when the lockout began, Bergenheim left for his hometown of Helsinki where he played just two games for HIFK before being hurt on Oct. 2.

"It was great to be able to play in my country, my hometown,'' Bergenheim said.

-- Dineen said he would name a team captain sometime this week. Florida has been without a captain since trading Bryan McCabe to the Rangers in the final stages of the 2010-11 season.

-- The Panthers will hold an intersquad scrimmage at the Saveology.com Iceplex on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Florida will not practice that morning but will hold a workout and the simulated game in the evening.

Dineen said the Panthers would likely call up some players from ECHL Cincinnati to help fill the two teams.

-- Florida called up seven players from AHL San Antonio for the start of training camp although only defenseman Tyson Strachan -- who hasn't played in the past few games -- was present Sunday. The rest of the players were traveling but will practice Monday.

Dineen said that Florida will not open the season carrying three goalies so unless either Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen gets hurt, Jacob Markstrom will be headed back to the Rampage.

PANTHERS TRAINING CAMP
-- When, Where: Monday, 10 a.m.; Saveology.com Iceplex, Coral Springs
-- Admission: Free
-- Directions: The Iceplex is located one-half mile east of the Sawgrass Expressway off Sample Road and Sportsplex Drive.
-- Season Opener: Saturday vs. Carolina; BB&T Center, Sunrise, 7:30 p.m.

#FlaPanthers Sunday Notebook: Dmitry Kulikov Missing from Start of Camp ... Dineen to Name Captain This Week ... Monday's Schedule

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers released their 32-man training camp roster late Saturday night with one glaring omission.

Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov isn't at camp as he remains an unsigned restricted free agent. Kulikov went to Russia to play for Yaroslavl Lokamotiv, his childhood team, and is reportedly still in his hometown.

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon didn't speak to the media on Sunday but said Thursday that he was speaking to Kulikov's agent on a daily basis. Coach Kevin Dineen said he expects Tallon to clarify the issue in the coming days.

Kulikov remains the property of the Panthers as he just completed his third NHL season. Kulikov has three goals and three assists in 22 games for Lokomotiv.

"I'm a big Dmitry fan,'' Dineen said after Florida's start of camp on Sunday morning. "I thought he really did a good job. He's very young in his development. Defensemen take a little time to develop, same as goalies. .-.-. He's really on track and is a player we envision having a long and successful NHL career.''

Kulikov, 22, said before leaving for Russia that he wanted to return to the Panthers and had no desire to play in the KHL. Kulikov, the 14th overall pick in 2009, bought himself out of his contract with Lokomotiv when he was 18 allowing him to start that season as a rookie with the Panthers.

The Panthers will hold their first official practice since last year's playoffs on Monday morning and will likely do so without two of their top defensemen.

Not only is Kulikov expected to be out, but it's not known whether Erik Gudbranson's surgically repaired shoulder has been cleared for practice. Gudbranson said he feels good but wouldn't comment further.

"You are missing two top players for us last year,'' Dineen said. "I'll deal with it and we'll be fine. But am I comfortable with it? No. I want nine quality defensemen. I'm a better coach with those two in the lineup, I just am.''

-- Winger Sean Bergenheim was back at the Panthers' training facility in Coral Springs on Sunday but said he couldn't comment about a potential groin injury suffered while playing in Finland early on in the lockout.

Bergenheim was slowed by a groin injury last year; After working out in South Florida when the lockout began, Bergenheim left for his hometown of Helsinki where he played just two games for HIFK before being hurt on Oct. 2.

"It was great to be able to play in my country, my hometown,'' Bergenheim said.

-- Dineen said he would name a team captain sometime this week. Florida has been without a captain since trading Bryan McCabe to the Rangers in the final stages of the 2010-11 season.

-- The Panthers will hold an intersquad scrimmage at the Saveology.com Iceplex on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Florida will not practice that morning but will hold a workout and the simulated game in the evening.

Dineen said the Panthers would likely call up some players from ECHL Cincinnati to help fill the two teams.

-- Florida called up seven players from AHL San Antonio for the start of training camp although only defenseman Tyson Strachan -- who hasn't played in the past few games -- was present Sunday. The rest of the players were traveling but will practice Monday.

Dineen said that Florida will not open the season carrying three goalies so unless either Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen gets hurt, Jacob Markstrom will be headed back to the Rampage.

PANTHERS TRAINING CAMP
-- When, Where: Monday, 10 a.m.; Saveology.com Iceplex, Coral Springs
-- Admission: Free
-- Directions: The Iceplex is located one-half mile east of the Sawgrass Expressway off Sample Road and Sportsplex Drive.
-- Season Opener: Saturday vs. Carolina; BB&T Center, Sunrise, 7:30 p.m.

ON FROZEN PHONE: Jonathan Huberdeau

TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE: Sunday

Florida Panthers report to Iceplex for physicals.

NO ON-ICE WORKOUT.

Next workout: Monday, 10 a.m.