October 13, 2014

SHUT OUT, SHUT DOWN: Panthers offense continues to sputter in 1-0 loss to Senators ... All-time low home attendance for Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The energy put forth between the Senators and Panthers on Monday mirrored the apathy in the stands for much of Monday night.
Playing in front of the smallest announced home crowd in franchise history, the Panthers failed to get much going and fell 1-0 to Ottawa at BB&T Center.
Both teams seemed to sleepwalk through a game with little buzz and even less action.
Ottawa broke the scoreless tie 35 minutes into the game when Clarke MacArthur scored on a power play. That was enough for former Panthers goalie Craig Anderson as he shut out Florida for the third time in his career.
"The goalie won that game for them,'' general manager Dale Tallon said.
The announced crowd of 7,311 was lowest in franchise history, beating the 10,063 from a Halloween game against Carolina in 2007.
Capacity at the building, which opened in 1998, is 19,250.
"I don't pay attention to that stuff when I'm playing, I just focus on my job,'' goalie Roberto Luongo, who made 22 saves, said afterward.
"If we want to get some people in the stands we need to start winning some games.''
The Panthers haven't exactly given their fans much of a reason to rush to the arena. The team has been to the playoffs just once since 2000 and finished at the bottom of the league the past two seasons.
Now winless in three games, the Panthers are off to their worst start in seven seasons as the team has just three goals.
"It's not the end of the world right now,'' Scottie Upshall said. "We have a few days to work before we go on our road trip and have some games against good teams who are also hungry for wins. We need to put this behind us, just focus on putting the puck in the back of the net.''
Florida looked to take the initial lead on Anderson in the opening period but Jonathan Huberdeau shot high on one big chance. Brad Boyes misfired on another in the final minutes of the period.
In the second, Nick Bjugstad -- who rang a shot off the post midway through the period -- went to the box for hooking.
MacArthur made Florida pay as he walked in on Luongo and scored on a nice deke move as he closed in.
"We need quality chances,'' Bjugstad said. "If we got a goal there, we would have a chance.''
The Panthers only challenged Anderson (30 saves, 27 career shutouts) a few times as Florida went 0-for-3 on the power play and now has just one goal in 13 chances with the man advantage.
Both teams went 0-for-4 during 6:03 of four-on-four hockey.
"We played a good, hard game and had plenty of scoring opportunities,'' first-year coach Gerard Gallant said. "A 1-0 game is a tough game to lose, but I thought we played real well.''
Jamie McLennan was only with the Panthers for one season in 2005-06, but he and Luongo became such friends that one of Luongo's demands to the team before signing a new contract was that McLennan return as his backup.
Luongo, of course, was traded by then-GM Mike Keenan to Vancouver and McLennan left town as well.
On Monday, McLennan was back in Sunrise as a television analyst -- the first time he had been back in the arena since his playing days.
McLennan and Luongo have remained friends over the years and said it was good for Luongo to leave the Panthers for a bit.
"I was relieved when he came back because I don't think he should have left in the first place,'' McLennan said.
"But it was good for him because it was a little like LeBron leaving Cleveland. He got his accolades, became a better goalie and got the recognition in the hockey world he didn't get here.''
-- Former Panthers coach Doug MacLean (1995-97) and captain Scott Mellanby were both at Monday's game as was Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray who spent time as coach and GM of the Panthers.
Florida Panthers lowest announced home game crowds
1. 7,311; Oct. 13, 2014 (Ottawa)
2. 10,063; Oct. 31, 2007 (Carolina)
3. 10,069; Oct. 15, 2003 (Phoenix)
4. 10,074; Dec. 3, 2013 (Ottawa)
5. 10,081; Oct. 31, 2006 (San Jose)



October 11, 2014

OPEN AND SHUT: Panthers lose home opener in front of record-low crowd as Devils roll 5-1

TWITTER: GeorgeRichards
The Panthers home opener could have gone worse although it's hard to imagine how.
Not only did New Jersey start its scoring less than three minutes in, but the Devils completely dominated the play in a 5-1 victory in front of a small contingent at BB&T Center.
"The margin of error is so thin in this league that if you don’t come out to play in the first 10 [minutes], you get your you-know-what handed to you,'' captain Willie Mitchell said.
The announced attendance of 11,419 was the smallest for a home opener in franchise history. The previous low was 12,087 at Miami Arena for the 1995-96 debut famously remembered as the 'Rat Trick' game.
Saturday's four-goal defeat was also Florida's most lopsided home opening loss besting three-goal losses to the Devils (2007) and Islanders (2001).
Goalie Roberto Luongo, who was pulled early in the second period, said Florida's play wasn't a result of the small crowd.
"The people here were loud and as players, that's all we ask for,'' Luongo said. "People are coming to encourage our team. We need to reward them with a better start.''
Although the Panthers put up quite a fight in Thursday's season opener at Tampa Bay before losing in overtime, Saturday's game was over quick.
Florida fell behind 3-0 at the 13:13 mark of the opening period. With 28 seconds left in the first, Damon Severson made it 4-0.
"We had a bad start to the game and it's tough to battle back against a team like New Jersey,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, who yanked Luongo three minutes into the second after the Devils jumped to a 5-0 lead on Ryan Clowe's slap shot.
"We didn't compete hard enough to win.''
The Devils fired from all parts of the ice Saturday and Luongo couldn't find the puck.
Three of the five goals he surrendered came from 50-feet out or further; one was a redirection off another long slap shot and the fifth and final one came off a shot from the slot.
Gallant said he thought about pulling Luongo after Severson's goal but decided against it.
"Louie is a battler,'' Gallant said. "We were down 4-0 in our opener, but wanted to give him another chance to get out there and battle. When they got that fifth goal, I wanted to make a change for the team. .-.-. I don't put it on Louie. It was just a bad hockey game for us.''
Luongo said he's had bad games before and is going to put Saturday's performance behind him. New Jersey led 2-0 before the 10 minute mark on goals from Eric Gelinas and Martin Havlat. Mike Cammalleri made it 3-0 with 6:47 left.
"It was a tough start but no excuses,'' said Luongo, who gave up five goals on 14 shots. "I have to keep the team in the game by making a couple of saves and I didn't do that. It's a disappointing performance.''
Florida's offense never really got anything going against Cory Schneider -- who was Luongo's teammate in Vancouver until he was traded away prior to last season.
Schneider, who lost to Luongo in their meeting last year in Sunrise, stopped 28 shots and got lucky late in the first when Brian Campbell's long shot rang off the post. A few minutes later, Severson scored and the Devils were all but golden.
"It could have gotten us going and from the corner, I have to find a way to get it in there,'' Campbell said. "New Jersey is known for holding down leads pretty good. You can't win games on a consistent basis like that.''
Down 5-0, Gallant brought in backup Al Montoya. The crowd wildly cheered when Montoya (10 saves) made a glove save on a shot moments after coming into the game.
Florida finally got on the board with 3:29 left in the second period when newcomer Derek MacKenzie (Columbus) got in front of Schneider and whacked at a loose puck to earn the team's first power play goal of the young season.
The Panthers didn't get any closer.
"We didn't compete and no one is fooling anyone,'' Mitchell said. "It was there in Tampa. You always want to play well, every game is a big game in this league. But the home opener, you want to play well. It takes the wind out of your sails a little bit.''


October 09, 2014

PENALTY PARADE: Tampa Bay Lightning score three power play goals, top Florida Panthers 3-2 in OT ... Scottie Upshall takes cheap shot, returns to game

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
TAMPA -- The Lightning are a very dangerous offensive team, especially when they have more players on the ice than its opponent.
And it's not like the Panthers didn't know this, either.
On Thursday night, Tampa Bay took advantage of the Panthers parade to the penalty box as it won the season-opener 3-2 in overtime at Amalie Arena.
All three of Tampa Bay's goals came on the power play -- two of which were when Florida had just three defenders on the ice -- including the game winner 49 seconds into overtime.
Tampa Bay ended up with seven power play chances; Florida had just two.
"We took too many penalties but for the most part, I thought we played hard,'' said Scottie Upshall, who was in the box for overtime after colliding with goalie Ben Bishop at the end of the third period.
"It was 6-to-1 in penalties. We felt we were working hard, but the calls just weren't coming to us. You can't leave [Roberto Luongo] out to dry in a situation like that.''
With Luongo in goal, Florida had a puncher's chance against the more skilled Tampa Bay team.
Florida took the initial lead in the second period only to find itself trailing 2-1 in the third.
A goal by Jonathan Huberdeau tied things with Luongo (29 saves) giving the Panthers hope for more than just thee one point in the standings they headed home with.
But in overtime, Florida was caught on a quick line change as Bishop corralled the puck near the corner and sent a slick pass to Victor Hedman at center ice. Hedman walked in on Luongo and beat him with the shot ending Florida's opening night win streak at three.
The Panthers lost all four meetings to the Lightning last season and don't play Tampa Bay again until March 1.
"I thought we played well, but you can't be in the penalty box seven times against those guys,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "They have a great power play and move the puck well. But I really liked our game. We wanted two points but got one. You know what, I'll take it.''
The Panthers were held to three shots in the opening period but definitely showed the Lightning they weren't going to be pushed around.
Despite their early offensive problems, Florida took the first lead of the night when defenseman Erik Gudbranson unleashed a 45-foot bomb that zipped over the glove of goalie Ben Bishop.
Florida didn't get to enjoy its good tidings for long, however, as Sean Bergenheim was flagged for interference 31 seconds later.
The Panthers couldn't stop the Lightning power play with Tyler Johnson charging in and popping the puck over Luongo's glove to tie the score.
Florida fell behind 2-1 early in the third when Ryan Callahan -- on a 5-on-3 chance -- backhanded a loose puck past Luongo.
But two minutes later, Jonathan Huberdeau got his first goal of the season when he fought down low and jammed a puck past Bishop.
Florida then kept things close and hoped to pull out the win in overtime. The final power play chance, this one a 4-on-3 advantage for the Lightning, was too much.
"I thought we battled hard but they had a lot of power plays,'' Luongo said. "They have a lot of talent and they're going to make you pay. It's a tough way to lose. I wanted to come up with a few more saves to give the boys a chance. We'll keep working on our game.''
-- Upshall was briefly knocked out of the game after he took a elbow to the jaw from Radko Gudas in the second period.
Upshall said he never saw Gudas coming as he was working the puck out of the Florida zone when Gudas came in, lifted his shoulder and collided with Upshall.
Upshall returned to the game after being down on the ice for sometime.
There was no penalty for Gudas -- who was squirted with Gatorade by Upshall in a game last year and was ejected after going after the Florida bench -- although Gudbranson did take an unsportsmanlike penalty for sticking up for Upshall.
"I just have a sore jaw and that's typical for a head shot,'' Upshall said. "The ref obviously said he didn't see it and that was the explanation.''
Gallant wouldn't comment on whether or not he thought Gudas would end up being suspended for the incident.
"He got hit in the head and no one saw it,'' Gallant said. "What can you do?"


BANNER NIGHT: Willie Mitchell watches old mates raise banner, ready to lead Florida Panthers to new heights ... Jason Garrison back in the Sunshine State

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
TAMPA -- Like many around the country, Willie Mitchell watched the Los Angeles Kings banner-raising ceremony on television.
Mitchell, however, had a little something to do with the Kings winning the Stanley Cup last season.
Now with the Panthers, Mitchell said he enjoyed watching his former teammates on the ice at Staples Center and has fond memories of the Kings' incredible run -- Los Angeles won three Game 7s in the Western Conference playoffs -- to the title.
"You kind of wish you were there because it was so cool to see,'' Mitchell said.
"It was the culmination of all of the events; the journey, winning, the parties afterward. The banner is the last thing left, the nail in the coffin.''
But was watching the ceremony from a hotel in downtown Tampa a little bittersweet? Mitchell said it wasn't as he's already moved on and that he's ready for the challenges of helping his new team into the postseason -- and beyond.
"It's motivation. Winning the Cup is the best feeling in the world and we want to win it here,'' said Mitchell, who was named the eighth captain in Florida history on Monday.
"Obviously we have to climb some hills before we climb that mountain. Everyone has a clean slate, no one has the Stanley Cup right now. It's up for grabs and everyone wants to take it away from them.''
It's that sort of attitude, coach Gerard Gallant said, that makes Mitchell such a leader within the Panthers locker room and why he was a natural choice as the new team captain.
"He was happy to sign here and was excited to come here,'' Gallant said. "Willie has been excited to be a Florida Panther since Day 1. He didn't come here to retire. He signed a two-year deal and wants to be a good player and a good leader.''
In three years with the Kings, Mitchell won the Cup twice.
This summer, he had a few days with the Cup and took it back home to British Columbia where he surprised his grandfather, 88-year-old Lester Mitchell, with it.
"He had a tryout with the Rangers in the Original Six days so it was only fitting that I took it over to him and chucked it onto his lap,'' Willie Mitchell said. "That was pretty special.''
Mitchell said he texted a few of his old teammates in Los Angeles as well as members of the Kings' front office on Wednesday before turning in for the night.
The Kings haven't given Mitchell his 2014 Stanley Cup ring yet but he's expecting it to arrive in South Florida sometime soon.
When asked if he would rather wait until the Panthers visit Los Angeles next month, Mitchell said he preferred to just get the ring in the mail instead.
"I'm sure they'll send it before then,'' Mitchell said. "I don't need anything special. It's great, it's a life-long memory, but it's over now. On to the next journey, the next chapter.''
-- Jason Garrison left the Panthers following their 2012 playoff season to play closer to his hometown when he signed with Vancouver as a free agent.
This summer, the Canucks traded him back to the Sunshine State although he didn't come back to the Panthers.
On Thursday night, Garrison took on his old teammates as a member of the Lightning.
"It's different here although the weather is kind of the same,'' Garrison said.
"This is a different team, different organization. Honestly, if it wasn't for the weather, I wouldn't feel like I'm back in Florida. It's been great here and I look forward to getting this season going. There is a lot of skill on this team, a lot of talent.''
-- Although the Lightning are considered one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this year, that sure wasn't the case when Gallant played here.
Gallant joined the Lightning in its second season -- which was Florida's first in the league -- and played 51 games in 1993-94.
The Lightning finished 12 points behind the expansion Panthers that season.
"We played a lot of golf, I remember that,'' Gallant said.
-- Florida's three scratches Thursday: defenseman Colby Robak as well as forwards Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Hayes.

Photo of Willie and Lester Mitchell with the Stanley Cup/Jeff Vinnick, Vancouver Sun


October 08, 2014

THUNDERSTRUCK: Panthers have tough opening draw against Lightning ... Colby Robak thrilled to make opening night roster ... Aaron Ekblad to make NHL debut

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Thursday: Panthers at Lightning

General manager Dale Tallon said he likes the way the schedule works out for his Panthers this season.

He can't be happy with the who Florida opens up against, however.

When the Panthers open their 21st season Thursday night, they'll do so against an opponent that has owned them lately.

Tampa Bay, which some have predicted as a Stanley Cup contender this year, not only swept the preseason series against Florida but won all four games last year as well.

"They have great team speed and are one of the fastest team in the league. They really attack you,'' said defenseman Brian Campbell, who starts his fourth season with the Panthers on Thursday.

"You give them a few chances and it seems like the puck ends up in our net. We just need to slow them down and hold them in check.''

The Panthers haven't won in Tampa since 2013 and haven't beaten the Lightning at home since 2011. After Thursday's opener, facing the Lightning won't be a concern for some time. The two cross-state rivals don't play each other again until March 1.

Although the Panthers have won 57 of the 113 meetings between the two, Tampa Bay has won 11 of the past 15.

"I don't think we've given them our best,'' defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. "We go into those games and have left that building knowing we could have done something better. That's not what you want. But give them credit; they're big, fast and play a good system. They're a tough team to play against.''

Even though the Panthers have gotten off to bad starts the past two seasons, they have been good in their openers.

Florida has won three straight opening night games -- including two on the road.

In 2011, the Panthers opened with Jose Theodore pitching a shutout against the host Islanders; last year, Florida won in Dallas.

On Thursday, there will be plenty of new players on the Florida roster as six free agents were signed in the summer and rookie Aaron Ekblad makes his debut.

Florida also has 14 players on the roster who didn't play in last year's opener including the then-injured Sean Bergenheim and Nick Bjugstad.

The Panthers also have a new coaching staff led by head coach Gerard Gallant.

Gallant may have a little something special for the Lightning as he was an assistant coach for the Canadiens last year. Montreal swept the Lightning out of the first round of the playoffs last April.

"For me, Montreal beating Tampa in four straight was [basically] Montreal being on top at the time,'' Gallant said. "We got a great start to the series and had a mental edge on them. They played well, played hard, but when they lost goalie [Ben] Bishop to injury, that was tough to overcome. It's not that they did anything wrong; Montreal was just unbelievable.''

-- Defenseman Colby Robak has played in 35 games with the Panthers over the past three seasons but is on the opening night roster for the first time.

Robak isn't expected to play against the Lightning as he is Florida's seventh defenseman although that hasn't tempered his enthusiasm for making the team out of training camp.

Veteran Shane O'Brien, signed to a one-year deal on Monday, was sent to AHL San Antonio on Tuesday.

"I can't explain this, it's something I've always dreamed of and worked for,'' Robak said. "But this is just one small step. You have to keep working, trying to get better. But I'm ecstatic.''

-- Ekblad, the top pick in the 2014 draft, is expected to make his NHL debut Thursday alongside Campbell. The two were paired together in last weekend's preseason finale at Tampa.

"He's a good player, first off,'' Campbell said. "We know he's going to make some mistakes, but I like him. He sees the ice really well and makes plays that impress me. You just have to remember he's 18. But I'm excited.''

Where, When: Amalie Arena, Tampa; 7:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: FSN Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Florida leads 57-46-10

Noteworthy: Goalie Roberto Luongo starts a Florida opener for the first time since beating the Atlanta Thrashers 2-0 on Oct. 5, 2005. The Panthers play host to New Jersey for the home opener on Saturday.




October 06, 2014

LOCAL TRADE: Panthers send Joey Crabb to Rangers, grab Coral Springs' Andrew Yogan in return; Shane O'Brien to San Antonio

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers made a trade to bolster their depth Monday, trading forward Joey Crabb to the Rangers in exchange for defenseman Stephen Kampfer and Broward-born winger Andrew Yogan.
Crabb was on a one-way deal with the Panthers but had already been reassigned to their AHL team in San Antonio. Kampfer and Yogan are expected to report to the Rampage in the coming days.
Florida also signed free agent defenseman Shane O'Brien to a one-year, two-way deal meaning he will start the season in San Antonio. Colby Robak makes the Panthers as the roster is now set at 23.
Kampfer, 26, has played in 61 NHL games but has spent the past two seasons in the AHL.
Yogan, who played youth hockey in Lighthouse Point and was a member of the Junior Panthers in Coral Springs, has spent the past two seasons bouncing between the Rangers' AHL and ECHL affiliates.
Florida had a chance to draft Yogan, who left South Florida at age 15 to play Canadian junior hockey, in 2010 but did not.
Yogan was picked by the Rangers with the 100th overall selection that year -- one spot after Florida took Joonas Donskoi (who is no longer in the organization) instead.



NEW CAPTAIN: Willie Mitchell named new captain of the Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When Ed Jovanovski was announced as the seventh captain in Panthers history, then-coach Kevin Dineen did it following a practice.
On Monday, Willie Mitchell got the news atop a mountain in New York.
Mitchell was presented with a red game jersey with the 'C' on the front Monday on Mount Tourne at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point where the team is spending a few days of training before its season opener.
Mitchell is one of eight new players on the roster of a team that has a new head coach in Gerard Gallant as well as two new assistant coaches.
Florida veterans Brian Campbell and Scottie Upshall were named assistant captains as were newcomers Derek MacKenzie and Dave Bolland.
"It's flattering in one sense but it's also a big responsibility,'' Mitchell told reporters. "I haven't chatted with a lot of people about it so it kind of caught me off guard. I heard grumblings, but I was a bit surprised at the top of the hill. .-.-. It's not something I'm going to take lightly. When you wear that, it's an honor. A lot of great people in the league represent their team that way.''
The 37-year-old defenseman, who has won two of the past three Stanley Cup championships with Los Angeles, has already been hailed as a leader inside the Florida locker room. Mitchell also served as a rotating captain with Minnesota in 2006.
"It was really important for us to go after guys like Willie who are not only great hockey players, but great guys in the room as well,'' said goalie Roberto Luongo, who played with Mitchell in Vancouver.
"Willie has been there, knows what it takes, knows what a winning locker room looks and feels like. There are some things people may not see off the ice. Helping these young kids see what they need to do is important.''
Photo courtesy Vancouver Province


October 03, 2014

PANTHERS MAKE CUTS: Shore, Trocheck, Petrovic among six headed to San Antonio ... Tallon wants to sign O'Brien

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


When the Panthers take the ice Saturday night in Tampa, they'll do so with much of the team that will open the night, coincidentally, in Tampa next Thursday.

Florida trimmed its roster significantly on Friday, sending six prospects -- including center Vinny Trocheck and defenseman Alex Petrovic -- to its minor league affiliate in San Antonio.

The Panthers play the host Lightning at Amalie Arena Saturday at 7 in the preseason finale for both teams.

"They were tough decisions because they are six good, young players who are going to play on our team,'' general manager Dale Tallon said of the moves.

"They're going to play some games this year and if guys here don't pick it up, they'll be here sooner than later. I'm real confident in them. They had good camps, made it tough cuts.''

The Panthers now have 24 players remaining with the only likely roster battle waging between free agent defenseman Shane O'Brien and Colby Robak.

O'Brien has played in 528 NHL games over eight seasons and is on the comeback after being banished in the minors by Calgary for the second half of last season. Robak finished his third season with the Panthers but has played in just 35 NHL games.

Tallon said he was planning on speaking to O'Brien's agent on Friday about a contract.

"We'll see where we go from there,'' Tallon said. "He's had a good camp, been aggressive and gives us depth on the blueline. We'll see where that takes us.''

Since Florida could lose Robak via the waiver process in trying to assign him to San Antonio, O'Brien will be offered a two-way contract and possibly sent to the minors for a time.

Whether O'Brien would accept such an arraignment is the question. He didn't sound too excited about it on Friday.

"I feel like I'm part of the team already so it would be disappointing if I'm not here,'' O'Brien said.

"If it's a two-way, I don't know. I would have to talk to my family, to my agent. I still feel like I'm an NHL player, I'm only 31-years-old. I feel like I've had a good enough camp to be here. I take pride in playing hard every night. I'll let my agent take care of the contract stuff.''

There really weren't many surprises with Florida's cuts on Friday. Grimaldi, although a dynamic player, is fresh off three years at the University of North Dakota and the thought is Florida wants him to log big minutes in the AHL.

Drew Shore returns to the AHL despite showing signs he can play at this level. Shore can only play in two NHL games before becoming waiver eligible so when he returns, he likely stays.

Quinton Howden and MacKenzie Weegar were also sent to San Antonio.

-- The Panthers go into Tampa winless in five preseason games.

Goalie Roberto Luongo, who will not play Saturday as Al Montoya gets the call, said it sometimes takes time for a new team to come together and the exhibition record means little.

"We need to get on the same page,'' Luongo said. "Obviously we would like a good preseason record, but it's important we don't get frustrated. This next week has us down to our main guys and gives us a chance to iron things out.''

Florida lost 3-0 to the Lightning on Thursday night and will play Tampa Bay twice more in the following week.

After Thursday's season opener in Tampa, Florida and the Lightning don't meet again until March 1.

"They have a real good team and it will be fun to play them in Tampa,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.

-- Rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad played his biggest minutes of the preseason Thusday. He said the game was "tenfold" different from his preseason opener last weekend in Nashville.

"I was much more confident, very excited to play,'' said Ekblad, the top pick of the 2014 draft. "I was more calm, more patient. I made some plays I wanted to make.''

Tallon said Ekblad would remain with the Panthers for "a while'' and will get at least his nine-game NHL tryout.

-- Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was back at practice Friday after taking a shot off his foot. Kulikov only played three shifts on Thursday as he was lifted from the game for precautionary reasons.


Saturday: Panthers at Lightning

Where, When: Amalie Arena, Tampa; 7 p.m.

TV/Radio: None.



October 01, 2014

AARON EKBLAD: Ready to play for Florida Panthers ... But will he stay?

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

In years past, the Panthers have given their highest draft picks plenty of playing time throughout their first preseason.

Last year, Aleksander Barkov played in four of seven preseason games after being the second-overall pick that previous June.

Jonathan Huberdeau played in three of Florida's six preseason games in 2011; Erik Gudbranson got in all six games the season before.

Through the first four exhibition games this year, Aaron Ekblad -- the NHL's top draft selection in June -- has only played in one.

He will play in his second Thursday night when the Panthers play host to the Lightning at BB&T Center.

Coach Gerard Gallant said Ekblad had a "minor tweak" after Saturday's game against the Predators hence why he was held out Monday in Dallas.

"We want him 100 percent when he's out there,'' Gallant said of Ekblad, who suffered a concussion in August but played in all three games of Florida's rookie tournament in Nashville.

"We want to play him in the home game and we don't want to play him too much. We'll decide on the next one. We have to see a lot of guys and know what he's going to be. He has some time and has already played a lot of hockey.''

Ekblad, 18, didn't feel like he played his best in his preseason debut Saturday. Ekblad said he wasn't satisfied with the way he played but is looking forward to playing in his first home game Wednesday.

"I'm just happy to get the opportunity to play in any games for this team,'' Ekblad said. "I'm still trying to work my way into it. .-.-. I think I've picked up my play in the past few days.''

Veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell, who has been partnered with Ekblad, says he sees plenty of potential and will continue to help guide the way.

"He's a good young player who needs to see more action,'' Mithcell said.

"He wasn't happy with his first game and I don't think anyone is. You feel like crap, don't have your legs underneath you yet. I'm excited to get in a few more games with him. My thought is a young player like that should be playing non-stop.''

While the Panthers are expected to make at least eight roster moves in the coming days before the season begins, Ekblad likely will not be one of them.

Florida can play Ekblad in up to nine regular season games before deciding whether to keep him with the big squad or send him back to his junior team in Canada.

If Ekblad plays in a tenth game, he could still be sent back, but he would have burned a year off his contract.

"He's an 18-year-old kid and we know he's going to be a great hockey player,'' Gallant said. "But this is a big step. A lot of people can attest that playing defense at 18 in the NHL means you have to be a special player. We're going to go game-by-game and see how he gets along. We're not going to rush anyone.''


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

TV/Radio: None

September 30, 2014

ELLIS SENT DOWN: Panthers send veteran goalie to San Antonio

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


The Panthers sent veteran goalie Dan Ellis to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio on Tuesday leaving their training camp roster at 31 players.

Florida is expected to make eight more moves in the coming days and open the season with 23 players.

Ellis, 34, came to the Panthers from Dallas on trade deadline day in March in exchange for Tim Thomas. Ellis went 0-5 and stopped 84 percent of his shots faced to finish the 2013-14 season with Florida.

In July, the Panthers signed Al Montoya to backup Roberto Luongo although Ellis said he planned on doing the job.

Ellis stopped 14 of 17 shots this preseason. He cleared waivers on Monday but remained with the team in Dallas.


Wednesday: Practice at Coral Springs IceDen, 11 a.m.

Thursday: Preseason game vs. Tampa Bay, BB&T Center, 7:30 p.m.

Friday: Practice at Coral Springs IceDen, 11 a.m.


September 28, 2014

FLORIDA PANTHERS MAKE MOVES: G Dan Ellis placed on waivers, 13 others sent to San Antonio

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers' training camp has moved west to Texas -- and the team is leaving quite a few players behind.

Florida trimmed its preseason roster on Sunday morning, sending 14 of its 49 players to its AHL affiliate in San Antonio. A few more could be cut in the coming days.

The Panthers also placed veteran goalie Dan Ellis and defenseman Greg Zanon on waivers so they could be assigned to San Antonio. The Rampage opens camp on Monday.

"He's played fine,'' coach Gerard Gallant said of Ellis. "It's just a situation that we have with three goalies. We're securing the net position. He'll go down and play some games down there. None of our goalies have played poorly. We feel we're strong in net. It's a numbers deal right now.''

There weren't many surprises on players cut Sunday as the Panthers have just one or two roster spots to fill before the season opener on Oct. 9.

The players sent outright to San Antonio were: Forwards Connor Brickley, Steven Hodges, John McFarland, Brett Olson and Logan Shaw; defensemen Josh McFadden, Jonathan Racine and Shayne Taker; goalies Sam Brittain and Michael Houser.

Forward Joe Basaraba and defenseman Joshua Brown were also released from their tryout but invited to Rampage camp.

Four more players -- Joey Crabb, Ryan Martindale, Garrett Wilson and Bobby Butler -- were also put on waivers and could stay behind in Texas once they clear on Monday.

"We have plenty of guys who are getting better in their career,'' Gallant said. "We feel good about our depth. If something happens with our roster, we feel confident we have guys who can come up and step in.''

-- The Panthers try for their first preseason win of the year Monday when they take on the host Stars in Dallas.

Florida lost to the Stars 4-3 in a shootout last Wednesday.

After Monday's game, Florida has a home-and-home exhibition schedule with Tampa Bay before the season begins.

"We're getting close to having our team right now,'' said Gallant, whose team was swept by Nashville in Saturday's exhibition doubleheader.

"I thought we played well on Saturday. We have three games played and a lot of guys have played in two of them. It's a process. Overall we're real happy with the way we're playing. We're getting ready for the regular season.''


Where, When: AmericanAirlines Center, Dallas; 8:30 p.m.

TV, Radio: None.

September 24, 2014

PRESEASON GAME NO. 1: Dallas Stars 4, Florida Panthers 3 (SO)

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

WEDNESDAY -- Dallas 4, Panthers 3 (shootout): Ales Hemsky beat Michael Houser in the fourth round to lead the Stars to a shootout win.

Defenseman Shane O'Brien, in camp on a tryout, got the Panthers on the board in the second with a nice shot from the slot before center Dave Bolland made it 2-2 with 49.2 seconds left in the period.

The Panthers got a goal from Brandon Pirri early in the third before Alex Goligoski tied it off a pass from Tyler Seguin midway through the period.


Thursday: Off

Friday: Practice at Coral Springs IceDen, 10 a.m.

Saturday: Preseason doubleheader at Nashville, 4/8 p.m.

ELLIS LOOKS FOR CHANCE IN FLORIDA: Dan Ellis wants to stay with Panthers but so does Al Montoya

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


Dan Ellis' place with the Panthers was compromised the day Dale Tallon signed Al Montoya.

Ellis says he has no plans to go anywhere. Montoya does as well.

With Roberto Luongo firmly entrenched as Florida's starting goalie, Ellis and Montoya are in camp vying to be the Panthers' backup although Tallon made it clear on July 1 that Montoya was signed to do the job.

"It's not a concern of mine,'' Ellis said before starting Wednesday's preseason opener against Dallas at BB&T Center. "It was a decision made by Dale and you have to respect that. But if I can lose my job in 20 days, I don't see why I can't win it back in 20 days. That's my focus and I don't worry about anything else.''

With Montoya and Luongo taking the night off, Ellis played the first two periods of Florida's eventual 4-3 shootout loss.

Things didn't start well for Ellis against his former teammates -- Ellis came to the Panthers from Dallas at the March trade deadline -- as the Stars scored twice in the first period.

Ellis stopped all five shots faced in the second and left with the score tied at 2.

Ellis' play at the end of last season all but forced Tallon to go out and get another goalie off the free agency market.

When he played in place of Luongo last spring, Ellis struggled to stop the puck.

Ellis ended the year going 0-5-1 with Florida, stopping just 84 percent of shots faced.

On Wednesday, Ellis said he wasn't surprised Florida went after Montoya -- who had two pretty good years in Winnipeg -- and suggested the competition is going to be good for him.

"Them signing Montoya has been the best thing for me,'' Ellis said. "I've really dove into myself, critiqued myself and things I need to improve on.''

If all three of Florida's top goalies make it through training camp unscathed, Ellis is expected to be sent to Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Coach Gerard Gallant said it's too early to begin speculating what the team will do in the coming weeks.

Both Montoya and Ellis would be paid their NHL salary if sent to the minors.

"This is what competition is all about,'' Gallant said. "We have three goaltenders with NHL experience and no one has said Montoya was brought in to backup anyone. It's about who wins the spot. You have to be fair to all your players.''

Ellis says he's been through goalie battles in the past and he's ready for this one.

So, too, is Montoya.

Right now, he most definitely has the edge.

"Nothing has changed for me,'' Montoya said. "This is where I want to be, this is the team I want to play for. I take it as my job. I'm here to push [Luongo], here to push myself and here to help this team out.''


September 23, 2014

TRYING TO TURN THINGS AROUND: Vinnie Viola, Doug Cifu talk about the future of the Florida Panthers, change in business practices

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers finished 29th out of 30 NHL teams last season both in the standings and in attendance figures.

Although the team expects to do much better on the ice, their ownership group said Tuesday they are prepared for even smaller crowds this coming season.

Owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu as well general manager Dale Tallon and the team's hockey operations department met with the team's beat writers on Tuesday morning and covered a variety of subjects.

One of those was the team's struggles at the box office and the team's change in the way it does business.

Cifu said the team has eliminated giveaways and deeply discounted tickets that have been a staple of the franchise for years.

"We are 100 percent ready for the reality that we'll have smaller attendance this season,'' Cifu said.

"We want people who are there to be paying a fair price, the same price and enjoying a great product on the ice. We can get 15,000 in there if we gave away 5,000 seats. We don't want to do that. It's not fair.''

By giving away so many tickets as well as dumping inventory onto the secondary market, Cifu said, the Panthers devalued their product and helped chase away season ticket holders upset by seeing the deep discounts others received as they paid full freight.

"There is total transparency,'' Cifu said. "Everyone in [a given] section is paying the same price. .-.-. All of the things that franchises which are [fighting] to sustain themselves have done, we think was an operational mistake.''

The team will tarp -- or more likely curtain -- off a good portion of the upper deck for non-marquee games this season further lowering their attendance figures. Capacity at BB&T Center will be around 15,000 for most games.

The Panthers averaged an announced 14,177 last year.

"We are trying to get people excited about hockey as when the franchise started,'' Cifu said. "We think once the fans see we are putting a quality team on the ice, have invested in it, they will respond.''

Last week, Viola and Cifu released a letter reiterating their desire to keep the franchise in South Florida.

On Tuesday, both realized talk of the Panthers moving north will start up again when the Ottawa Senators come to Sunrise for the second home game of the season.

Some of Florida's lowest attendance figures of any given season come when Ottawa visits (photo above was taken at last year's Ottawa game which fell on a Tuesday).

This year should be no different as that game is scheduled for a Monday night early in the season.

"We have nowhere to move nor the rights to move,'' Cifu said, adding that the team will honor the 14 years remaining on its lease with Broward County.

"We're committed to being here. This is a long-term investment. You don't fix a dozen years of a lack of success on the ice as well as doing things that weren't hockey-related and non fan-centric in one season. We have to earn the trust back in the community to get people back.''

Viola and Cifu said they are confident their business acumen as well as an improved on-ice product will help the Panthers turn "a manageable profit" in the coming years.

Cifu told Broward County commissioners in February that the team was losing $100,000 a day during the season and told FoxSports.com in August that the current losses were unsustainable.

With increased ticket sales in the future as well as NHL revenue and national television sharing, Cifu said the Panthers can work in South Florida.

"You can be very competitive and financially viable in a non-traditional hockey market,'' Cifu said.

"The Rangers, Maple Leafs and Canadiens can't outspend us like can happen in baseball. .-.-. We think the way the league is structured with capped salaries and revenue sharing can lead to a successful franchise. We just need people in the seats and the get the business community behind the team.''

-- Coach Gerard Gallant released his lineup for Wednesday's preseason opener against visiting Dallas with a mix of veteran and prospects going against the visiting Stars.

Florida's top two forward lines will consist of regulars with the majority of the lineup filled by those fighting for a roster spot.

Dan Ellis and Michael Houser will be in goal.

"We want to give all of our players a chance to make the hockey club,'' Gallant said. "We'll get more into our team in the final games.''


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

Radio: WQAM 560-AM


September 22, 2014

READY TO BOUNCE BACK: Tomas Kopecky, Tomas Fleischmann want to put last year behind them for Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers had a season most would like to forget last year.

Tomas Fleischmann doesn't even want to talk about it.

"I've already forgotten about last year,'' Fleischmann said after Sunday's third day of training camp in Coral Springs.

Not only did the Panthers finish 29th out of 30 teams last year, but players such as Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky struggled to score.

Fleischmann went from leading the Panthers in scoring during his first two seasons in Florida to potting just eight goals -- his lowest total since he became a full-time NHL player in 2007 with the Capitals.

"Every year is a rough one when you don't play good,'' said Fleischmann, who at one point went 22 games (Dec. 19-Feb. 27) between goals. Fleischmann also went through droughts of 14 and 10 games last season.

"As I've said, I've forgotten about last year. There's nothing I can change about it so I'm not going to think about it anymore. When I started working out for the next year, I never thought about it.''

Kopecky had a strong year in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, tying his career-high with 15 goals. Last season, however, was an absolute nightmare.

Not only did Kopecky struggle to score, but his season was cut short after he suffered a concussion thanks to a brutal hit during the Olympics.

For two months, Kopecky wasn't allowed any physical activity.

When he was medically cleared, Kopecky said he went all out in the gym in preparation for this season.

"I started preparing for this season basically in April,'' said Kopecky, who scored four goals in 49 games with Florida last season.

"Everyone knows what happened last year was unacceptable. For me, personally, I took it to heart. I tried to come to camp in the best shape and I'm healthy. This is going to be a big year for us. I'm super-excited.''

General manager Dale Tallon says the Panthers are counting on big bounce-back seasons from the likes of Fleischmann and Kopecky.

Of the large group of players Tallon brought in during his roster remake in 2011, only a handful remain.

Kopecky, Fleischmann and Scottie Upshall -- who had his rebound year last season -- are all in the final year of their contract making their production this season even more important.

"It's a new chance for those guys what with a new coaching staff and all,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.

"I think there was a lot of disappointment for individuals as well as a group and a team. They finished 29th [in the NHL] and no one was happy about it. They all want to bounce back. I don't look at the numbers .-.-. I know the players we have.''

Fleischmann says he's not worried about next year or a new contract.

"That's something my agent should think about, not me,'' he said.

Fleischmann adds just wants to get back to playing at the level he was and help the Panthers return to the postseason.

Like training camp in 2011, the Panthers are flush in new faces. Like that year, optimism for the new season runs high.

"This definitely feels similar to 2011,'' Fleischmann said. "There's excitement in the air, I mean we could be a playoff-team good. We can't wait to get the season started.''

Said Kopecky: "Last year is behind me. I had a good a summer, I have no symptoms [from the concussion]. I'm ready to go.''

-- Center Dave Bolland briefly left Sunday's scrimmage with a cut on his face but returned after a visit to the training room.


Tuesday: Dual practice sessions (split squad) at Coral Springs IceDen, 11 a.m.

Wednesday: Preseason opener v. Dallas Stars at BB&T Center, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday: Off day

Friday: Dual practice sessions (split squad) at Coral Springs IceDen, 10 a.m.

Saturday: Preseason doubleheader at Nashville Predators, 4/8 p.m.

September 17, 2014

CAMP OPENS: Florida Panthers invite 51 to start of training camp

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers report to the BB&T Center on Thursday morning for medicals and physical fitness tests.

The first official practice of the 2014-15 season under new coach Gerard Gallant comes Friday morning at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs.

The team will practice through the weekend with a FanFest at the training facility on Saturday and Sunday.

"I'm excited about getting back to work'' general manager Dale Tallon said last week. "This is a great time of year if you're in the hockey business.''


All practices at the Coral Springs IceDen unless noted

Friday: 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Saturday: 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Sunday: 10-11:15 a.m.; scrimmage 11-12:15 p.m.

Monday: 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Tuesday: 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Practice at BB&T Center, closed; exhibition game vs. Dallas Stars, 7:30

Thursday: Day off

Friday: 10-11:30 a.m.

Saturday: At Nashville


LETTER TO FANS: Viola, Cifu say Florida Panthers aren't moving, committed to South Florida

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

On the eve of the opening of training camp, Florida Panthers owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu said the franchise will remain in South Florida.

In a letter written to stem rumors of relocation, Viola and Cifu wrote that "as we close in on the one-year anniversary of our ownership of the Florida Panthers, we want to reiterate our commitment to Broward County, South Florida and our Panthers fans and business partners.

"As we said at the press conference when we bought the team, we view ourselves as stewards of the team for the community and our plan is to build an organization that makes South Florida proud and to win the Stanley Cup in South Florida.

"Despite media speculation to the contrary, we have no plans or intentions to move this franchise.''

With the team trying to change its lease with Broward County and erase an annual $4.6 million bond payment -- Cifu told the county commission the team is "losing $100,000 per day" in a February meeting -- there has been speculation the team could be on the move especially with new arenas being built in Las Vegas and Quebec City.

The Panthers are locked into a lease with the Broward County-owned BB&T Center in Sunrise through 2028.

The team is asking Broward County to resolve it of its annual bond debt payment by having the two-cent tourism tax cover it in exchange for a higher profit sharing rate between the team and the county.

In the course of the lease, the team has only paid Broward County once when it made the playoffs in 2012.

The Panthers also want the county to take over insurance on the building.

Rumors about relocation took off when Cifu told FoxSports.com in August that "the current business model is not sustainable.''

Viola, the majority owner of the Panthers, bought the team for a reported $250 million last September. The team added plenty of payroll since re-acquiring goalie Roberto Luongo in a trade last March. Florida's payroll is currently estimated at $66 million which ranks 17th in the league according to capgeek.com.

"It is no secret that the Panthers and BB&T Center have lost tremendous amounts of money over the last dozen years,'' the owners wrote on Wednesday.

"We are working hard to address this situation.''

County auditor Evan Lukic has disputed figures provided by the team writing in a report before Viola and Cifu took over that the Panthers' organization made over $120 million in profits since moving to the arena in 1998.

Since the team moved north from Miami, however, it has changed hands a number of times. Viola and Cifu bought the team from Cliff Viner, who had been a minority owner but took over the franchise from Alan Cohen in 2009.

Here is the letter:

"As we close in on the one-year anniversary of our ownership of the Florida Panthers, we want to reiterate our commitment to Broward County, South Florida and our Panthers fans and business partners. As we said at the press conference when we bought the team, we view ourselves as stewards of the team for the community and our plan is to build an organization that makes South Florida proud and to win the Stanley Cup in South Florida. Despite media speculation to the contrary, we have no plans or intentions to move this franchise.

We made a commitment to the Panthers and to South Florida when we bought the team to build a successful organization on and off the ice. We have been working hard to live up to that commitment. Starting with the trade to bring Roberto Luongo, one of the world’s top goaltenders, back home to South Florida, and continuing with our committing over $80 million to new players, including bringing six talented veteran free agents to South Florida and resigning all of our restricted free agents, we have dedicated ourselves to improving the team. Off the ice, we continue to expand our community outreach initiatives and look forward to continue to contribute to the quality of life for residents.

It is no secret that the Panthers and BB&T Center have lost tremendous amounts of money over the last dozen years. We are working hard to address this situation, which we believe we can do with the support from our loyal fans, our business partners, the business community and our community-at-large.

We look forward to a winning season and bringing a Stanley Cup to South Florida.

With Warm Regards,

Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu, Co-Owners"

Photo (Cifu on left, Viola on right) by WALT MICHOT/Miami Herald Staff


September 16, 2014

PANTHERS PROSPECTS WIN AGAIN: Florida goes 3-0 at Nashville tournament

Twitter: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers wrapped up the Nashville prospect tournament Tuesday with a 6-3 win over the Lightning. Florida went 3-0 in the tournament, sweeping the Bruins, Predators and Lightning.

In Tuesday's win, Florida took a 3-1 lead by the second break and rolled to the victory.

A good number of players who participated in the tournament will be on the ice when Florida opens training camp on Friday morning at the IceDen in Coral Springs.

On Tuesday, Florida got goals from MacKenzie Weegar, Logan Shaw, Jayce Hawryluk, Connor Brickley, Andrew Blazek and Juho Lammikko.

Here are some quotes courtesy of the Preds' PR staff:

Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning


Florida Quotes

Forward Jayce Hawryluk

On what he will take away from the rookie camp experience…

It’s been great. I’ve learned a lot, being here with the older guys, on the pro life and what it takes to make it to the next level. You learn a lot here, and I’ve learned a lot. It’s been a tricky camp, and I’ve enjoyed it and had a lot of fun. At the same time, it’s business and I feel like I’ve gotten better and I’ve learned some things about what it takes to be a pro.

On playing with the other rookies…

It’s been great. This team is awesome, and the guys are great. Everyone on the team is awesome. We gel well and we’re a good team. It’s fun.

On his second period power play goal…

It was a great dish by Trocheck to me back door. I just had to put it in upstairs. It was a great pass.

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad

On today’s game…

I feel confident in the way I’m playing, and that’s always a good feeling. When you can go out there and try new things and make new plays, it’s always good. Obviously I’m really happy about the way I’m filling out here at rookie camp, and with this group of guys it’s great. We’re happy.

On the difference between this camp and Juniors…

The difference is huge. It’s crazy. The speed and the impacts out there is pretty crazy. I’m happy to get this experience here and hopefully it’s another good and positive step forward as well as another milestone to playing in the NHL.

On playing against former teammate Anthony Camara…

He’s a very creative player, and a lot of people don’t know that part of his game. He can make plays, he can score goals, he can deke guys out and he can beat goalies out. He’s not only the physical fireball that he is, but he has a lot of handles to his game, and I’m proud to call him a friend.

Goalie Sam Brittain

On today’s game…

It was different. Today was the third game of the tournament, but it was super early in the morning so we were going through the same thing they were. We had a quick jump in the beginning and were able to hold that momentum throughout the whole game.

On his experience at this rookie camp…

It was a great experience. It was the first time we all really get to play together and compete together. I think for me, the biggest thing is to make sure that I understand what the coaches want out of myself and the rest of the guys as well as what they want going into the season.




September 15, 2014


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PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: The gang's all here ... Prospects 2-0 in Nashville

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers are scheduled to have their first on-ice session of training camp on Friday morning in Coral Springs. That means just about everyone is in town now getting ready.

The team held its biggest informal skate of the offseason today with just about everyone taking part save, it seemed, for Dave Bolland. His gear is in his locker, however, so I would expect to see him out there tomorrow.

If you want to come out to the IceDen in Coral Springs to see the practice, Tuesday will likely be the final one before camp opens.

Roberto Luongo and a few guys usually come out around 9 a.m. with the majority taking the ice around 10.

I spoke with a few players today -- Luongo, Al Montoya (who has a sparkly new mask) and Brian Campbell among others -- and there seems to be genuine excitement about the upcoming season.

Big change from this time last year when everyone was looking around wondering what was going on.

-- The Panthers are 2-0 at the Nashville Prospect Camp after beating the Preds on Sunday night. Florida isn't playing today but play the finale on Tuesday against the Lightning.

Here is a recap with quotes from the first two games courtesy of the Panthers and Preds PR departments:


Sunday -- Panthers 3, Nashville 1: With the win, the Cats rookies now own a 2-0 mark in the prospects tournament.

Vincent Trocheck scored the game-winner for the Panthers in the third period, when he picked up the puck along the boards and fired a wrist shot into the back of the net.

After a scoreless first period of play, the Panthers prospects took an early lead after F Logan Shaw redirected D Aaron Ekblad’s shot from the blueline past Nashville netminder Rob Madore.

Late in the middle frame, Nashville tied the game at 1-1 on goal from F Colton Sissons. F Stephen Hodges picked up his third point (2-1-3) of the tournament with an empty net goal with just under one-minute to play in regulation.

Panthers G Sam Brittain stopped 19 of 20 shots in 40 minutes of action, while G Clarke Saunders made 11 saves in the final frame.

Nashville Predators vs. Florida Panthers


Florida Quotes

Goalie Clarke Saunders

On tonight’s shootout…

It was fun, I haven’t done a shootout since junior hockey, so it’s been five years! We practiced in college all the time the day before a game, so I got some practice there. I really enjoyed it.

On playing with this team…

They’re great. They were so supportive today, especially since I didn’t play much last year I haven’t really had a game in some time. I felt a little rusty going in, especially not starting and going in during the third period, but the guys were awesome and made me feel comfortable out there and did a great job on the ice.

On the upcoming season…

It’s a fun time entering my first year of pro hockey; I’m looking forward to it. I’m not too sure where I’m going to end up yet, but I’m just working hard everyday.

Forward Vincent Trocheck

On tonight’s game…

It felt good, like a start to the season. I’m very excited, everybody’s dream is to play in the NHL and that’s what I’m fighting to do here so I’m excited to see what happens.

On the rookie tournament…

It’s been fun. The last couple of years we haven’t been winning as much as we have been in this rookie tournament, and now we are 2-0, so that’s definitely more fun than losing. We have a great group of guys and I’m just trying to be a leader.

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad

On tonight’s game…

I felt really good. It’s about the team, it’s about the win, and that’s what is most important here. I’m very happy to have gotten that win and we are on the right track to finish this tournament in a winning style.

On staying positive…

You always want to feel good and put yourself in the right mindset before you go into a game like that. It’s a last ditch effort for everyone to show their stuff and prove that they are ready to play.

On playing with this team…

It’s been good to build new relationships and friendships; it’s always huge in the game of hockey. It’s very easy to step into a room of 25 guys and build a strong bond. It’s important since these are the guys coming up in the organization like myself and I’m getting to know them and become familiar with faces. When you are nice and respectful, a lot of people give you support along the way if you do those things.

Saturday - Florida 2, Boston 0: Rookie netminders Sam Brittain and Jacob DeSerres combined for a 30-save shutout, while F Steven Hodges and F Cody Payne scored goals for the Cats prospects.

After a scoreless first period of action, Hodges put the Panthers prospects on the scoreboard first when he slipped a shot inside the pipes past Bruins goaltender Malcolm Subban.

The Cats prospects took a two-goal lead late in the second period when the South Florida native Payne banged a puck past Subban. Neither team would score in the final 20 minutes of action.

Brittain made 13 saves on 13 shots, before being replaced by DeSerres, who stopped all 17 regulation shots that he faced. Hodges finished the game with a goal and an assist, while F Jayce Hawryluk and D Mackenzie Weegar notched assists.

Boston Bruins vs. Florida Panthers


Florida Quotes

Goaltender Sam Brittain

Thoughts on the game…

It was a good game. It’s the first time we’ve been out there as a group. We’ve been together the past couple of days, but it felt good and it was a lot of fun. It was great.

On his strategy going into the game…

I just wanted to take it one shot, one minute at a time. I didn’t want to look ahead. I just wanted to do what I could do, show everyone where I belong and help the team win. I think that’s the biggest thing in these things. You want to do well individually, but you also want to do well as a team.

On what he hopes to bring to the team this season…

I think no matter where I end up playing and what I do, I have to make sure I give my team the best chance to win at every level. I’ve just got to do my best and keep progressing as a player.

Center Steven Hodges

Thoughts on the team’s performance...

I thought we did pretty well. We got better as the team went on. The first half of the game, we didn’t get as many shots as we wanted to. Once we started to get the puck towards it, we got more success and that’s something we can build on next game.

On his mindset when scoring the goal…

I just got a great pass from Weegar. He did a great play. Rocco [Grimaldi] did a great play driving right down the middle and gave Weegar a lot of room, gave myself a lot of room. Leger gave me a nice soft pass right on my tape and I had plenty of time to put it away.

Thoughts on team improvement during the pre-season…

I think just getting our intensity up. You can tell Boston is a pretty physical team, and we were okay to play with that. We are a fast-skilled hockey team, but we have a lot of grit and a lot of spark with the guys on our team as well. And that’s something we can incorporate into our team as well that will definitely make us a stronger competitor.