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OFF TO RUSSIA: Steve Goldstein to Join Tomas Kopecky and Aleksander Barkov in Sochi

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

In a few days, two members of the Florida Panthers will pack up their equipment and fly thousands of miles from South Florida.

Although many of their teammates will spend the upcoming break on a beach or visiting family up north, Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky will continue playing hockey.

In Russia. At the Olympics.

"I'm enjoy to enjoy this as if it were my first Olympics,'' said Kopecky, making his second run with Slovakia after competing in the 2010 Vancouver Games. Slovakia lost to Canada in the semifinals and to Finland in the Bronze medal game.

"We have a great group of guys and I'm excited to see some other events if I have the time. You focus on hockey but you need to get your minds off things during the off time. I'm excited to go. It should be fun.''

Barkov is no stranger to international competition, but for the 18-year-old center, this will be his biggest stage yet.

A two-time member of Finland's world junior team, Barkov wasn't considered a favorite to land a spot on his national team until a hot streak just prior to the selection announcement.

Barkov, the second-overall pick of last year's draft, says he's been concentrating on the Panthers but he can't wait to go to the Olympics. Barkov grew up in Finland to Russian parents who hail from the Moscow area.

"These are my first Olympics, so I'm 100 percent excited no matter where they are,'' Barkov said. "I was happy to hear [about being selected] and a little surprised about it.''

Those two won't be the only ones with Florida ties in Sochi. Former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen and goalie Roberto Luongo, who both spend their offseasons in Broward, will represent Finland and Canada respectively.

Television voice Steve Goldstein is also making the trip as he will do radio play-by-play alongside former Florida defenseman Bret Hedican for Westwood One Radio.

Although local stations aren't picking up the hockey games, they can be heard on SiriusXM satellite radio.

"The games are going to be awesome,'' said Goldstein, who worked his first of four Olympics back in 1994 at Lillehammer.

"I'm really looking forward to Feb. 15 in particular when the United States plays Russia in Russia. That's something historical I get to do. There's so much history there. It'll be nice being somewhere I've never been.''

Although there has been well-publicized concerns about security and readiness of the games, Goldstein and Kopecky say they can't wait to get there. Goldstein said Westwood One already had staffers in Sochi and they were pleased with how things were running.

"Our hotel is done and within walking distance of the hockey arena and broadcast center,'' said Goldstein, who will make the 25-hour trip on Saturday.

"And the weather is the kind we love here in South Florida. It's 50, 55 degrees. You can wear shorts at the Winter Olympics.''

Kopecky said he's seen some of the images coming out of Sochi and smiled when he mentioned the infamous bathroom shot as well as the three single beds that some players from Team Canada will share.

The Ritz-Carlton, this isn't.

"Vancouver was nice because there was a language there you spoke,'' Kopecky said. "Sochi will be different. You see the picture of the two toilets together, that's something you've never seen. But we're going there to play hockey. Security is really high. That's good.''

-- The team has renamed and has plans on rebranding its training facility in Coral Springs at the Florida Panthers IceDen. The name change is effective immediately.

THURSDAY: RED WINGS AT PANTHERS

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

The series: Detroit leads 15-7-5

Scouting report: This is the final meeting between the two teams this season with Florida winning both games in Detroit and three of four overall. The Panthers rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat the Wings at Joe Louis Arena in a shootout last month.

 

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FL Panthers Ice Den huh? Well it shouldn't take to long until they can con (I mean) secure a new sponsor.

The saveology people got smart and didn't re-up

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