CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - As a group of autograph-hungry children eagerly await his arrival, Tomas "Flash" Fleischmann makes his way through the sliding doors of the Panthers IceDen, the longtime NHL forward still looking as if he could suit up for a 60-minute game tomorrow if he needed to.
"I'm going to have him sign this bottle," one kid proclaims.
"I'm going to get my stick!" shouts another.
But today isn't just about autographs.
Fleischman, who played for the Panthers from 2011-2015, is here to try his hand at life on the other side of the bench, serving as a special guest instructor for the final week of his incredibly successful, sold-out youth hockey clinic.
"It's kind of my first [coaching] experience," he said.
An 11-year NHL veteran, Fleishmann recorded 335 points (137-198-335) in 657 career games for the Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks and Panthers.
After his final season with Chicago in 2015-16, Fleischmann attempted to continue his career with the Minnesota Wild, but eventually chose to return to his home in South Florida to maintain his on-ice training while mulling over his career options.
It was then, Fleischmann says, that a new coaching opportunity arose.
"I was just skating around the ice [at the IceDen], when some parents saw me doing some stuff and asked me if I could help their kids," said Fleischmann, who isn't ready to rule out a return to the NHL next season. "Since then, we just started working with more and more kids, and now I'm here."
From these humble beginnings, Fleischmann's knack for hockey tutelage eventually led to a partnership with the Panthers, with the 32-year-old veteran tapped to lead a special four-week clinic, designed for aspiring young hockey players born between 2004 and 2007, that focused mainly on off-ice strengthening and the on-ice skills of shooting, passing, skating and stick handling.
"The main thing is that I see them smiling before and I see them smiling after," Fleischmann said of the clinic. "They've enjoyed it. We are having fun and working hard out there. I'm here to make sure they get better. It's good."
After signing autographs and snapping a few photos, Fleischmann's clinic begins at the IceDen's newly unveiled Center of Excellence, where he leads approximately 40 students through a series of off-ice conditioning drills and stretches for 30 minutes before hitting the ice for a fast-paced hour of hands-on guidance through numerous skill-building stations.
"The older you get, you realize it's more important to spend time off the ice than on the ice," Fleischmann said. "Right now, you can start early with the kids and teach them to establish the thought process in their head that before practice or game they can go to the gym and warm up to get their body ready for on-ice work.
"I just want to give them a little bit of everything. You can tell they are missing a lot of things. We work on that in drills - five stations on the ice for an hour. The kids get a lot of time at those stations to work on the things they're missing."
With Flash back in the fold, the Panthers are hoping that more of their former franchise cornerstones will also be eager to lend a helping hand in an effort to inspire the future stars of South Florida's growing hockey scene.
"The star power only highlights and enhances our program," Panthers IceDen General Manager Keith Fine said. "It really helps develops the program and attracts more people here. We're absolutely going to be pushing for more programs in the future. Anything we can do to broaden opportunities for families to get involved with our program, on the ice or off the ice, is something we always strive for."
Following in Fleischmann's footsteps, former Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski will also soon return to the IceDen to lead a AAA Development Camp, consisting of 24 on-ice sessions and 36 off-ice sessions, from early March until late May.
Visit http://www.panthersiceden.com/ to learn more.