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Panthers enjoy change of pace with outdoor practice

by Deborah Francisco
It was a perfect day for outdoor hockey as the Florida Panthers took to the ice Saturday afternoon at Central Park's Lasker Rink for a little bit of classic pond hockey.

"It was unbelievable," rookie Erik Gudbranson told, "Sometimes (outdoors), this is where you have the most fun playing hockey so it was awesome."

The Florida Panthers skate for a practice outside at Central Park's Lasker Rink. (Photo courtesy of Kate Cochran)
The Southeast-Division leading Panthers, who play Sunday evening against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, opted to hold their practice at Central Park as a treat for the players after playing in back-to-back road games Thursday and Friday night.

"We felt that there's no place more special to be than New York City around the Christmas holidays and we wanted to do something special so we came out here to Central Park," coach Kevin Dineen said. "You can just tell how much fun the guys are having; we're having a tough time getting them off the ice."

Rather than hold a typical mid-season practice, Dineen organized a round-robin, three-on-three tournament for the team. The rink was split into three sections with four-foot wide goals made of cones at each end. Panther netminders Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen skated out with the rest of the players as no goalies were allowed in the tournament. Coaches even joined in the fun as members of the three-on-three teams.

Players chatted with each other about outdoor rinks back home and how the atmosphere at Central Park reminded them of it.

"It was really fun to play outdoors today," left wing Tomas Fleischmann said. "It's great weather and here with the guys, it just brings good memories to the childhood and it was fun to be here to play some three-on-three pond hockey."

The Florida Panthers play a 3-on-3 pond hockey game outside at Central Park's Lasker Rink. (Photo courtesy of Kate Cochran)
It was classic shinny hockey with just skates, sticks and pucks and an audience full of young fans to cheer on the action. But after 45 minutes of competition, it was unclear which team was victorious.

"That's up for dispute right now and we might have to go up to the video trainers to sort that out," Dineen joked.

The ice-time concluded with an empty-net contest from the length of the rink. One member of each team was selected to shoot for the empty net, if he missed he skated a lap, and if he made it he elected an opponent to skate the lap for him. There was plenty of laughter as they jeered and cheered each other on.

After snapping a team picture at the picturesque rink, home to the majority of New York's winter ice-hockey teams, the rink's staff had trouble coaxing the Panthers off the ice.

Young fans, many of whom just finished playing a game of their own before the Panthers took over the rink, enjoyed chatting with members of the Panthers as well as having various sticks and jerseys signed before they were whisked away on the team bus.

"A heck of a day for the Panthers," Dineen said.

Follow Deborah Francisco on Twitter @nhlgirl

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