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DeBoer admits beating Panthers would be special

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. -- New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer had no problem admitting Monday night's game at Florida had extra meaning for him.

DeBoer, who was fired the day after the Panthers ended their 2010-11 season, will be coaching against his former team for the first time. 

Moments after the Devils won at Tampa Bay on Saturday night, DeBoer said about facing the Panthers, "I'd like to win that one for a lot of reasons."

Many coaches in that situation would talk about it as "just another game," but DeBoer didn't take that approach.

For him, the reason is pretty simple.

"I just think it's a lie. Anybody that tells you that isn't telling you the truth. Obviously, your first game back in a place you spent time is different and there's no sense sugarcoating that."
-- Peter DeBoer

"I just think it's a lie," DeBoer said before breaking out laughing. "Anybody that tells you that isn't telling you the truth. Obviously, your first game back in a place you spent time is different and there's no sense sugarcoating that."

DeBoer spent three seasons as Panthers coach and compiled a 103-107-36 record.

He almost ended the Panthers' playoff drought in his first year at the helm in 2008-09 when Florida finished with 93 points (41-30-11) but lost a tiebreaker with Montreal for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. But the Panthers struggled the last two seasons and finished dead last in the East in 2010-11 with a 30-40-12 record.

DeBoer's job toward the end of last season was made much more difficult after GM Dale Tallon traded away several veterans to both clear cap space and collect draft picks -- Florida was 4-11-5 after the trade deadline.

But DeBoer didn't sound after Monday's morning skate like a man who has bad feelings toward his former employers.

"We had three great years here as a family and met a lot of people," DeBoer said. "I was excited to get back and touch base with people and see them. Obviously I still follow the team closely. Spent a lot of time with a lot of those players day in, day out, so you're always watching and it's nice to be back."


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DeBoer says he's been impressed by his former team, even though it might be difficult for him to recognize it with all the new faces.

"Dale went out and recognized that he had to make serious changes, and he did that," DeBoer said. "It seems to be working for them and that's a credit to them, some bold moves that are working for them.

"They've been on their own roll themselves and are playing a real high-tempo brand of hockey. It's going to be a great test for us to try to handle that."

Even with all the new faces, the Panthers' current roster still includes 12 players who played for DeBoer.

Center Stephen Weiss, the longest-tenured member of the team, not only played for DeBoer in the NHL but also in the Ontario Hockey League with the Plymouth Whalers.

Weiss isn't surprised his former coach was so candid about the meaning of Monday night's game.

"He doesn't hide behind much, he's going to let you know how he feels," Weiss said. "That's fine. You want that. You know he's going to have those guys ready to go and pumped up, have some money on the board as well as all of us. You can do all the talking you want, but it comes down to tonight on the ice."

For the Panthers, facing a former member of the organization is nothing new.

It's already happened with defenseman Brian Campbell and forwards Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky facing Chicago; wing Sean Bergenheim going up against Tampa Bay; and goalie Jose Theodore facing Washington.

"It's out there, but for us it's a game that's really important and it gets beyond personalities," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "It's no different for us than when Chicago was in town and we had three different players that have extremely strong connections to that organization. It's always special playing against your old team."

Make no mistake, Devils players know it's a big game for their coach. DeBoer hasn't had to tell them.

"Besides talking to you guys (reporters) about it, he hasn't really mentioned it to us," goalie Martin Brodeur said. "It's inside him. Without him saying it, we know. It's like a guy that gets traded or a guy that leaves an organization or signs somewhere else, when you come back for the first time it's always a little different because you used to be on the other side. I don't think it's any different for a coach.

"Hopefully, we'll make him happy and play well for him tonight. It's important for us because of where we're at. We need to climb up in the standings and we've got to continue what we're doing. For him, I'm sure it's a big day."
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