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An Eye-Opening Experience

by Glenn Odebralski / Florida Panthers
Panthers prospects Vincent Trocheck and Nick Bjugstad go through a drill on Tuesday at the JetBlue Practice Facility.

Forward Drew Shore and defenseman Mike Matheson were drafted three years apart. But when it comes to this week's Development Camp, they stand on the same ground; both are rookies at Camp just taking in everything that's thrown at them.

Take Tuesday for instance.

The day started out with an on-ice session split into power skating and drills. Then the off-ice session involved a workout and a nutrition seminar. Following a rendezvous with the South Florida media, Shore, Matheson and the rest of the Panthers prospects had lunch and then a finance seminar. Following the seminar the group bussed to Whole Foods in Coral Springs for a shopping and cooking seminar as they learned about purchasing "good" foods and then preparing meals for themselves.

For those guys that haven't done anything like this before, it's a chance to learn to fend for themselves and get on the right path to becoming a professional hockey player.

"I think it's been huge from the standpoint to give these guys a base to take back with them," said San Antonio head coach Chuck Weber who is running the on-ice sessions along with Director of Player Development Brian Skrudland. "The biggest thing right now is we're trying to give them drills and skill development that they can take with them whether it's San Antonio, take back to their Junior team or their college team that they can work on and make themselves better. If they really take the onus on themselves to do that extra work then it's going to pay off as Florida Panthers later on."

With everything thrown at them over a week in South Florida, the intake can be taxing and for some it can be down right shocking to the system but it's a big plus in the prospects’ development.

"Hopefully for the guys it is," said Weber when asked if the information overload can be an eye opening experience. "So when they do turn pro, it's not as big as shock for them and they can worry about hockey.

"That's the biggest thing for this right now is to give these guys a background that when it is time for them to turn pro, they can worry about their game, they can have their life all sorted out. It's kind of the old cliché, you have to get your life sorted out before you get your game sorted out. This is going to give these guys a heads up on that and a leg up hopefully on some other guys in their development."

While it's only been two days in both Shore and Matheson have enjoyed their first taste of "pro" hockey.

"It's actually my first (camp). They didn't have one my first year and last year I had some summer school stuff but it's going great," said Shore who was drafted in the second round (40th overall) in the 2009 NHL Draft. "The last two days on the ice we have done a lot of power skating stuff and I think a lot of guys have enjoyed that and off the ice we've just learned more stuff and I've really enjoyed it."

"It's a great experience being here and being able to compete against all of the best players that are in the organization that are coming up," added Matheson, the Panthers first round pick (23rd overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft.

To say that Shore is a rookie at the pro game might be a bit misleading as the forward did spend time in San Antonio at the end of last season. After finishing up his junior season at the University of Denver, the 6-foot-3 center decided to forgo his final year and turned pro instead. There he posted three points in the final eight games and added two goals in nine playoff games, all while gaining experience.

Panthers prospects learn about the right foods to buy in a shopping seminar at Whole Foods in Coral Springs (Carly Peters)

"It was a great experience. Certainly the pro game is a lot different than the college game and the playoffs were definitely a step up from that," said Shore who recorded 53 points in 42 games to lead Denver in scoring. "It's probably the highest level of hockey I have played. I was given a lot of good opportunities and I think I did pretty well."

Shore was one of a few players to get late pro experience in San Antonio. Adding that playing time along with this week's camp is huge for those players as they prepare themselves to make the transition full time to the pro leagues.

"I think the biggest thing with all the kids that have come in, especially the ones that came in late like Drew (Shore), Alex (Petrovic) and Quinton (Howden), they see what it's like to compete against men," said Weber. "They were the big dogs from where they came from and now to be competing against 28, 29, 30-year old men I think they realize what they need to work on in their game.

"The need to get faster, need to get stronger but the biggest thing with San Antonio is it is that development for the kids. They see what pro life is like. What preparation takes day in and day out away from the rink as well as at the rink and give them those tools to allow them to become better pros quicker. All these kids are talented enough and have a bright future but it's how quickly they can embrace that and develop."

For all the prospects at this week's camp, it's all about improving in all aspects of their lives, not just on the ice. Although the on-ice product is pretty important too.

"I'm just hoping to put a good impression on the organization and Mr. Tallon and just try to come in here and work hard and show that I'm dedicated to improving in my game," said Matheson. "Show them some things that I can bring to the team in the future."

"I think the biggest thing is creating that culture of winning. Just like Dale and Kevin have done up here, you expect to win," said Weber. "That's what you want to create, that culture that you put the work in to expect to win. Winning shouldn't be an event. It should be something that is expected.

"When you put in the work, you get rewarded for those things and I think the organization at both levels, the NHL and the AHL took a huge step towards that last year."

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