CORAL SPRINGS - Just before 10 a.m., Saturday morning – 9:56 to be exact – coach Peter DeBoer blew his whistle at IncredibleIce, a group of players gathered around him near center ice, and a loud cheer erupted from the stands.
The Panthers were back.
With approximately 1,000 fans looking on, the Panthers’ kicked off training camp and the start of what they hope to be a memorable 2008-09 season with an uptempo practice and a spirited scrimmage run by first-year coach DeBoer.
“It was nice to be on the ice,” DeBoer said. “I thought they worked awful hard. It was a good first day. A coach is never happy with everything, but we got a lot of things to work on.”
Brett McLean, who had 14 goals for the Panthers last season, echoed the sentiments of many on the first day.
“It was a really tough day,” he said. “(DeBoer) ran us through the paces pretty hard. But it was exactly what we needed and it felt good to get back out there with the guys. It takes you a step closer toward the regular season.”
DeBoer, who will use a number of line combinations before the season, had Nathan Horton centering Cory Stillman and Rostislav Olesz while Stephen Weiss
was paired with wingers David Booth and Richard Zednik.
Other combinations included Gregory Campbell with Brett McLean and Radek Dvorak, Shawn Matthias
with Stefan Meyer and Tanner Glass (who scored the game-winner in the scrimmage), Michael Frolik with Ville Peltonen and Kamil Kreps and Janis Sprukts with Anthony Stewart and Kenndal McArdle.
“Like I said (Friday), I’m not going to be married to any combinations,” DeBoer said. “We’ll try guys at different areas and see who has chemistry and who doesn’t. The goal isn’t to get one good line, but be a team that can throw three, four lines at you and can contribute offensively.”
DeBoer said Richard Zednik looked good and ready to go after missing the last three months of the season with a neck laceration. Defenseman Noah Welch was aggressive and Stewart had a good practice. Defensemen Keith Ballard, Nick Boynton and Bryan McCabe all looked comfortable.
The only two regulars who did not participate in the scrimmage were defenseman Bryan Allen (knee) and Wade Belak (shoulder). DeBoer said they’ll both likely play during the team’s six-game road trip through Canada beginning Tuesday in Calgary.
The approximately 1,000 fans who showed to welcome the Panthers applauded after practice and after the scrimmage. Fans were also able to purchase game-worn jerseys and game-used equipment while also enjoying grilled food.