When Panther GM and coach Jacques Martin sat down last spring to analyze the 2006-07, he concluded the team’s poor start had cost them a chance at the playoffs.
Martin isn’t going to let that happen again.
|Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives & Records Administration |
In an effort to build team chemistry and character, the Panthers will fly Sunday to New York and the United States Military Academy at West Point for three days of team bonding before moving to New York City to play their opening game of the 2007-08 season Thursday at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
Along with on-ice practices, the Panthers will participate in a number of activities at West Point, founded in 1802 and the oldest occupied military post in America.
Teams who have previously visited West Point (Penguins, Rangers and Flyers) have participated in everything from paint ball to warrior hunts to mountain treks. The group will be supervised in part off-ice by J.B. Spisso, a 10-year specialist with the U.S. Army Rangers, drill sergeant, and founder and CEO of Elite Leadership Training.
Martin, who has done team building programs throughout his coaching career, doesn’t want a repeat of last season when, after getting out to a 3-1-1 start, the Panthers went 5-12-3 in their next 20 games.
“When I looked back at our start last season, when we sat down at the end of last year and analyzed our season, one of the areas we identified was that our poor start really cost us a playoff spot,” Martin said. “You try to pinpoint the reasons for the slow start. I think one of them was the fact I don’t think we were a team.
“We didn’t play as a team. There wasn’t that chemistry, that camaraderie, that really helps you be successful. We didn’t find that until the middle of December.”
Beginning on Jan. 2, the Panthers finished the season 20-11-9. But their sluggish start, particularly their struggles in November, cost the Panthers a shot at the playoffs.
Martin is hoping to prevent that with the trip to West Point.
“I really believe by doing this, going to West Point and putting a focus on team building and the team concept, it’s a great opportunity for players to understand each other better, to do things away from the ice that translate to the ice,” he said.
Noah Welch, acquired from Pittsburgh in February, attended the Penguins’ three-day trip to West Point last season.
“It was a great experience and I was psyched that I did it,” Welch said. “It was challenging for sure, but it was a great team building weekend. I think it helped that team a lot. Overall, it’s just incredible. You’re on the campus of one of the most prestiguous schools in the country, in the world, and you get to see a little of the discipline of (the cadets) every day life and what the students really go through.
“It’s tough. I’m not going to lie. But it’s supposed to be.”
With the Panthers opening the season Thursday at Madison Square Garden against a new-and-improved Rangers team – with 24 of the team’s first 26 games against Eastern Conference opponents and 13 of those against Southeast Division teams – it’s no wonder Martin and his players are stressing the importance of a fast start.
“I think this will be beneficial,” Martin added. “It will be a new experience for a lot of players. A lot of times you get to know your teammates a lot better in kind of an outside environment. You hope that translates to better performances and better understanding of each other. You develop some trust and accountability with each other.”