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Bouwmeester Returns To The Ice

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
By Dave Joseph for

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester
Jay Bouwmeester is tanned, rested and ready.

The Panthers’ All-Star defenseman, who May 22 underwent hip surgery, played golf last weekend in Hawaii while attending his sister’s wedding, and is back on skates and ready for the 2007-08 season.

“Everything is fine,” Bouwmeester, 23, reports. “I went back (to Vail, Colo.) to see the doctor and everything was working and everything was good as far as he could see.”

This is good news for Panther fans, who have watched Bouwmeester turn into one of the league’s top, young defensemen. Mike Kitchen, hired earlier in the week as an assistant coach, compared Bouwmeester to Chris Pronger. Entering his fifth professional season, Bouwmeester scored a career-high 12 goals last season and was the team’s sixth leading scorer last season.

Regarding his hip surgery, Bouwmeester said he felt some discomfort late last season – “Kind of like a pinched groin” – but didn’t think too much of it at first.

“For a hockey player, little things like that happen a lot,” he said. “But when it kind of didn’t go away after the season, that’s when I figured I’d better take it seriously. When I learned I needed surgery, I thought it would be better to get it done at that time, during the off-season, instead of trying to play on it, finding out after a while I needed to have surgery, and then missing a couple months in the middle of the year.”

Bouwmeester, who briefly wore a brace after the surgery, said he’s been skating the last few weeks back home in Edmonton, Alberta, and this week will begin getting “geared up” for some more on-ice work.

“There’s a group of guys up here who have been working together for quite a few years,” said Bouwmeester, who added he’ll attend a camp run by Rangers’ assistant coach Perry Pearn the last two weeks of August before heading back to South Florida and the start of Panther camp.

The usually, soft-spoken Bouwmeester has matured quite a bit since entering the league as a 19-year-old in 2002, and GM and coach Jacques Martin believes Bouwmeester is only now starting to come into his own.

“Last year I started to see him mature a little more, to communicate a little more,” Martin said. “I look at some of the experiences he’s had – playing in the World Cup and with Team Canada in the Olympics – and I think that’s really helped him.

“Last year he was a key player for us. He was a Plus-23. He logged the most ice time of our defensemen. What I like about Jay is he’s solid at both ends of the ice, and he’s getting better offensively as he gets more experience.”

As he prepares for the upcoming season, Bouwmeester, like the rest of the Panthers, is excited about the team’s upside come the new year.

“I thought all the moves they’ve made have been positives,” said Bouwmeester, regarding the acquisition of goalie Tomas Vokoun and the signing of free agent forwards Richard Zednik, Radek Dvorak and Brett McLean. “Vokoun is obviously a very good goalie, and the guys we got all have the potential to score goals.

“For us, it’s really just a matter of winning, basically. Guys are getting older and ready to take more responsibility. Really, there’s not a whole lot missing.”

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