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Cats Fall To Preds, 3-1

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
(Photo Credit: Sami Katzenberg)
By Olivia Moffett, Univeristy of Miami

Sept. 13, 2011, Coral Springs, FLA- Sporting blue jerseys, the Florida Panthers Rookie Team hit the ice seeing red for their second game of the Rookie Tournament against the Nashville Predators Rookie Team. Nashville, playing their second game in less than 24 hours were no worse for the wear as they scored three unanswered goals on their way to a 3-1 victory over the home team.

"I thought it was just that fine line, we got a lot of chances, we just didn’t execute the chances," said San Antonio head coach Chuck Weber following the game. "We had a number of 3-on-1’s where it rolled off somebody’s tape or we passed it into a laying down defenseman."

The Panthers proved to be both aggressive and vocal in the first few minutes of play, resulting in an even strength goal by Jonathan Huberdeau (his second of the tournament) as he potted a rebound off of Erik Gudbranson’s point shot 3:41 into the first period. The Panthers played the rest of the period with steady communication and energy, as well as a fortitude that is ever-present in rookie players with “something to prove.”

Rookie aggression hit its peak in the first period when Nashville center Michael Latta and Panther’s left wing Eric Selleck each received five minutes for a helmets off/gloves off brawl in center ice at 5:08, Florida’s only penalty of the period. Predator goalie Atte Engren stayed busy for the majority of the period with 13 shots on goal and notable Panther presence in the crease. Meanwhile, Jacob Markstrom saw limited action until the last few minutes of play when Nashville’s shots on goal jumped from 10 to 15.

Nashville started the second period looking to mimic Flordia’s first period success. At 3:20 in, NSH left wing Josh Shalla was assisted by defenseman Taylor Aronson for the Predator’s first goal of the game.  Nashville’s passing game became increasingly more accurate from this point and Markstrom saw substantially more action in the second period than he did in the first. This period also saw more penalties with a total of three calls for the Panthers and two for Nashville.

At five minutes, FLA left wing AJ Jenks lost his stick and recovered it for a fast break up the center only to be called for high sticking at 5:15. At 7:35, Jenks saw his second penalty of the game: a two minute call for holding. The period continued with an offensively strong Nashville putting pressure on Markstrom, totaling 14 shots on goal in comparison to Florida’s 12.

The string of penalties continued at 8:53 when right wing Josh Birkholz received two minutes for tripping. Nashville simultaneously changed goalies, replacing Engren (with four shots on goal) with Chet Pickard (who took on the other eight shots.)

At 8:58, Nashville’s Taylor Beck received two minutes for tripping, which negated a 5-on-3 power play opportunity. With open ice due to three men in the box, Nashville struck for their first lead of the game at the 9:23 mark. This goal was scored by breakout center, Craig Smith, (marking his 5th goal of the tournament) and assisted by defenseman Ryan Ellis.

"(They've got) guys like Ellis and Smith, they were able to execute that play and it was a heck of a shot," said Weber.

"They were a little bit bigger. They were a little bit more skilled…they were good players," added Huberdeau. "They were a bit better than Tampa. But we have to forget about that and get ready for tomorrow."

Nashville received their final penalty of the game at 13:56: a two minute interference call for defenseman Scott Valentine.

The second period wrapped up with the score at 2-1 Nashville.

Keeping their momentum from the second period, Nashville put up another even strength point one minute in, when Craig Smith netted his 2nd goal of the game, (6th in the tournament), as he sniped a shot from the slot past Markstrom.  Though most of this period took place in center ice, it was marked by well-executed passing plays from Nashville and high energy from both teams.

"I heard about him, just last night and this morning, but, I knew he was a good player," said Markstrom of Smith. "There is a lot of good players on every team now, so you can’t just focus on one player, you’ve gotta focus on the whole team.”

The final penalty of the game went to Florida’s Josh Birkholz for slashing at 14:02 minutes in.

The Panther’s pulled Markstrom at 18:30 for a final push towards Pickard who received 12 shots on goal during the third period.

After a Panther’s timeout at 19:11 and an unsuccessful scoring drive, Markstrom was put back in at 19:44 to finish the game, with a final score of Nashville 3, Florida 1.

"It was a good game to play, but unfortunately we didn’t win," said Markstrom. "But you know, that is with hockey, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”

Despite the loss, the Panther’s came out on top during the post-game shootout where right wing Jonathan Hazen put in a sudden death shot after a 1-1 tie, with previous goals by Nashville’s Victor Bartley and Florida’s Josh Berkholz, respectively.

"The biggest thing we’ve seen with these kids is they are getting better every day," said Weber. "They are taking the information, they are executing the information and that is huge."

The Florida Panther’s Rookie Team will be back on the ice tomorrow (9/14) at noon for a matchup against Tampa Bay.

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