Panther captain Olli Jokinen skated across the blue line at Incredible Ice Wednesday morning before slowly coming to a stop along the boards.
With approximately 20 other players around him, including some from other NHL teams, Jokinen stood in front of a huge man at center ice who drew a diagram on the small white board he clutched in his left hand.
The group, which included Panthers’ Stephen Weiss
, Nathan Horton, Mike Van Ryn, Tomas Vokoun and Branislav Mezei, as well as former Panther goalies Roberto Luongo and Ed Belfour, listened intently before skating off for another 15 hard minutes of passing and shooting drills.
|Vesa Surenkin |
One month before the official start of NHL training camp, several players are getting a jump on the season courtesy of the Panther captain and his friend and coach from Finland, Vesa Surenkin.
Surenkin, who has coached elite teams in Russia and Finland, was brought to South Florida last week by Jokinen to run unofficial practices here at Incredible Ice in Coral Springs leading up to training camp.
Jokinen’s plan: To have the Panthers not only ready for training camp, but be three or four weeks ahead of where they were last year upon arrival.
“Vesa and I have known each other the past 10 years,” Jokinen said. “He usually runs my hockey camp during the summer in Finland. I just thought bringing him in, and with the relationship I had with him, would make camp run smoother and make us better.”
Surenkin admitted while hockey is played differently in the NHL than Europe, “players are players.”
“Teams are together all year in Finland,” Surenkin said. “The team is working 11 months together, on and off the ice. Hockey is different here, of course. (NHL players) are used to different kinds of drills, but I think they’re excited about what we’re doing.”
Said Horton; “It’s been two days and I’m already sore.”
“Before it was just us putting (practice) together with very little structure,” Horton added. “This is different. It’s nice. Olli brought (Surenkin) down here and he runs a pretty good practice. It’s good for us to get back in shape.”
|Nathan Horton & Olli Jokinen |
Jokinen, who scored a career-high 39 goals last season and led the Panthers in assists (52), game-winning goals (8) and points (91), is focused on leading the Panthers into the playoffs. And these next four weeks help to build a strong foundation.
“I think we’ll be ready for training camp because we’ll be getting the proper on-ice practice before we get to camp,” he said. “I personally need that. I need somebody to run practice. I asked other guys if they felt the same way – we had a little discussion at the end of last season – and I wondered if we shouldn’t bring somebody here. With the new CBA, you’re not allowed to work yet with your own coaches. Vesa was between jobs, and I thought it was a good opportunity for him and for us.”
Jokinen said Surenkin has the players working on “one on one stuff.”
“Most of the European-type drills you have to think,” Jokinen said. “You just don’t go there and shoot. There’s a lot more passing. You have to think after a shot about what you’re going to do next. That way you put your thinking hat on, and it’s better to do now than when camp starts.
“We’re not going to waste a week when we get to camp getting used to passing and shooting and all the battle stuff. We’ll feel like we’re three, four weeks ahead of schedule. That’s what we need. Any athlete will tell you they want a good feeling when they get to training camp. We want to feel ready so there’s no question marks.”