FORT MYERS, Fla. - The marquee at TECO Arena reads, "Hurricanes vs. Panthers," which is enough to intrigue hockey fans, even during exhibition season.
But tonight's first meeting of the expected Southeast Division powers from Carolina and Florida was postponed because of a real, live hurricane called Floyd. No make-up date has been announced.
Packing winds up to 155 mph, Floyd already has prompted a hurricane watch along the east coast of Florida, and it could be heading toward the Canes' training base in Southwest Florida.
"I like to be a Hurricane, but I don't want to see a hurricane," said defenseman Marek Malik, who doesn't have to worry about such things in his native land, the Czech Republic. "If it's not going to be safe, we don't have to play this game."
Because of the postponement, the Canes have tentatively planned to fly back to Raleigh this afternoon, thus ending the Florida phase of training camp one day early.
Ironically, TECO Arena, is a hurricane shelter. But that was no comfort to the Panthers, who had no intention of traveling some 125 miles north with a hurricane apparently on the way.
The Canes have a game scheduled for Wednesday night against the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in Greenville, S.C. But that contest could also be threatened by Floyd.
Carolina, 1-1 after splitting weekend games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, is scheduled to meet Florida on Saturday, Sept. 25 at Greensboro Coliseum.
The Panthers were going to keep Pavel Bure, "the Russian Rocket," grounded even if there had been a game tonight. The star right winger, who scored 13 goals in 11 games in 1998-99, is still rounding into shape following reconstructive right knee surgery March 29.
"I'm trying to be smart and take it slow," said Bure, who practices with the team daily. "There were a couple of times where I'd forget about my knee and then I'd have to stop myself, saying, 'Hold on, take it easy.' "
Carolina, which has several key players nursing minor injuries, was also going to take a safe approach.
Center Ron Francis, who scored on a nifty backhander in Saturday's 3-1 win over Tampa Bay, wouldn't have played because of a hip flexor. Defensemen Paul Coffey (hip flexor), Nolan Pratt (groin), Curtis Leschyshyn (groin) and Dave Karpa (hip flexor) were also out.
"If a player here is 50-50 and he's a veteran, then he won't play," Coach Paul Maurice said before the postponement was announced.
"Now that we're eight days into camp, we're starting to have some groin strains. That happens as players make the transition from off-ice training to on-ice training. We're trying to protect the groins as much as we can. The injuries are nothing serious, but we're seeing a lot of nagging injuries now."
Getting players through the preseason healthy is far more important to Maurice than any exhibition game. Still, the coach had hoped to use the Florida game to study the Canes' chief divisional foe.
"We'll watch Florida as coaches quite a bit more because they play a left-wing lock," Maurice said, referring to a defense that can be likened to a basketball 2-3 zone in which the first two defenders shadow the left winger and forecheck aggressively. "Against a left-wing lock, there will be pressure on our defensemen to move the puck more."
David Tanabe, a swift-skating, 19-year-old defenseman, would have been tested in his Canes debut. When Carolina's 1999 first-round draft pick sees his first game action, he'll play alongside steady veteran Glen Wesley.
Arturs Irbe, who made 17 saves in Saturday's win, would have been in goal tonight, against either Trevor Kidd, who lost the No. 1 job in Carolina last season, or Sean Burke, a Canes goaltender in 1997-98.
The goalie matchup, as well as Tanabe's Hurricanes' debut, will have to wait because of a hurricane called Floyd.