Under cover of darkness – in a bug-infested swamp where you can’t see your hand in front of your face – a group of Panthers are wading nearly waist deep in bog while carrying a teammate over their heads.
Some 400 yards away in the thicket of a forest that has long gone black save for a single glow stick, another group of Panthers are attempting to roll a pair of 700 pound tires up a hill without breaking the string of yarn that’s between them.
Welcome to Team Building, Panther style.
After taking off Sunday from South Florida at 12:30 p.m., the Panthers found themselves Sunday night in a remote section of upstate New York, in total darkness, trying to perform several tasks as part of its Team Building mission here at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
Broken into four teams – Teams Integrity, Loyalty, Honor and Commitment – the Panthers spent more than four hours in a the woods and swamp trying to perform their tasks as dusk turned to total blackness in an isolated location that took an hour to reach by bus from West Point.
The team was greeted by smoke bombs and explosives going off. They returned to West Point to the compliments of J.B. Spisso, a 10-year specialist with the U.S. Army Rangers, drill sergeant, and founder and CEO of Elite Leadership Training.
GM and coach Jacques Martin, who watched his players in different situations throughout the night, brought the Panthers to West Point before Thursday’s opener in New York against the Rangers in an effort to build team chemistry and prevent the kind of slow starts that have hurt the Panthers the past two seasons.
As far as what the Panthers thought of Sunday night’s exercises?
“They were different situations, that was for sure,” said Panther defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” said forward David Booth. “To be at one of the most prestigious schools in America, with these (soldiers), you can’t appreciate enough what these men and women do.”
Spisso, along with 10 consultants, barked orders at the Panthers while they spent approximately 40 minutes trying to accomplish each task. A group, led by Bryan Allen, was asked to ‘rescue a pilot’ in the swamp while it was still daylight. But that group then had to build a shelter and solar still in total darkness.
Spisso’s consultants, West Point graduates and elite soldiers, covered a range of emotions. At times they were encouraging. At other times they barked instructions and told players to quit because they weren’t performing well enough.
“Go back to the bus and have some hot chocolate,” one consultant screamed at a group of players at one point. “Maybe you want a donut. I’ll even get you the kind with sprinkles.”
Goalie Craig Anderson, whose group had to ‘rescue a pilot’ in the swamp in total darkness - which included carrying a man in the bog some 100 yards without letting him get wet – said the Panthers “didn’t know what we were really getting into.”
“It was a different experience,” he added. “You have to read and react to the situation. It was a great event for everybody. You have to pull together and you have to be mentally tough. There’s guys (consultants) yelling at you, but you have to deal with that on the road when the fans give it to you.”
Spisso, who’s been running such Team Building camps for 3 ½ years and has also hosted the Penguins, Rangers and Flyers, said Sunday night’s exercise will help the Panthers when times turn tough during the 2007-08 season.
“This is going to help them accomplish any task,” Spisso said. “When there’s two minutes left in the third period and you’re down a goal – when you’re smoked, when you’re tired, when you feel you can’t do it – you’ll say to yourself, ‘I can do it.’ I know what I need to do to be successful.
“It doesn’t matter out here whether you’re wearing a ‘C’ or an ‘A’ because all that matters is what you have inside.”
The only player not to make the trip to West Point was defenseman Steve Montador, who had an arthroscopic procedure performed over the weekend on his knee.
The Panthers were to continue to prepare for Thursday’s season-opener at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers with an on-ice practice Monday morning followed by a leadership meeting in the afternoon led by Spisso.