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Army Strong? Florida Panthers heading to West Point to finish prepping for NHL season

NHL.com @NHL

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers are getting some Army training to finish off their preparations for the season.

Florida will spend Sunday through Tuesday at West Point for training and team-bonding exercises, before flying back south to open the regular season at Tampa Bay on Thursday.

"It's going to be big," first-year Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "We had 51 players in camp and now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty. We're going to have our team picked very shortly. It'll be good to get the guys together and I think going to West Point will be a real positive for us."

Florida closes the preseason in Tampa on Saturday, and then heads north to West Point. Panthers owner Vincent Viola is a 1977 graduate of the United States Military Academy, and the team has several West Point graduates and military veterans working in the front office.

The trip has been scheduled for several weeks. Florida released several specifics on Friday, with things such as field problems designed to test mental and physical strength; a hike up Torn Mountain; team barbecues and meals in the Cadet Dining Hall all on the schedule, along with actual hockey work.

"We're figuring out how to work together," Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau said. "New coach, new system, and we've got to all get on the same page. We're going to figure out how to be a real team, a close team."

It's the Panthers' third visit to West Point for training and team bonding. Several other teams have done so in recent years as well.

"I haven't done it in the past but I've heard good things about it and I know our guys are excited about it, so that's the main thing," Gallant said. "We'll have two or three good practice days there, plus some good off-ice stuff. I'm looking forward to it."

The Panthers, who are winless in five preseason games with just nine goals so far, got their roster down to 24 on Friday by placing defenceman Blake Parlett on injured reserve and assigning forwards Rocco Grimaldi, Quinton Howden, Drew Shore and Vincent Trocheck, along with defencemen Alex Petrovic and Mackenzie Weegar to the team's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

For the most part, it will be the regular Panthers lineup on the ice Saturday in the preseason finale, with at least one notable exception. Starting goalie Roberto Luongo said he does not plan to play, with backup Al Montoya likely to get the nod instead.

Luongo isn't worried about the lack of preseason offence.

"Right now we're not worried about goals," Luongo said. "We're worried about keeping the scoring chances down. We want to give ourselves a chance to win every night and in order to do that we've got to play well defensively."

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