The Panthers held their final practice Friday morning in South Florida before preparing to fly to Helsinki, Finland tonight to prepare for the NHL Premier Games Oct. 2-3 against the Blackhawks.
The Panthers will bring 26 players to Finland, including rookie defensemen Dmitry Kulikov
and Jason Garrison
and rookie forwards Shawn Matthias
and Michal Repik
. Christian Backman is still on tryout and forward Jeff Taffe is also making the trip. The Panthers will also bring a third goalie in Alexander Salek.
Coach Peter DeBoer said the Panthers have a “couple guys with nagging, minor injuries.” Gregory Campbell has had a hip flexor and Keith Ballard had a groin injury earlier in the week. But DeBoer added, “I’m pretty comfortable they’ll all be healthy (by Friday), the 24 we penciled in.”
“It’s a lot easier to send somebody back on cutdown day than fly somebody over there and prepare,” he added.
More good news was DeBoer reporting defenseman Bryan Allen, returning from knee surgery last season, came out of Wednesday’s game against the Stars better than he did last week’s game in Montreal.
The team arrives in Helsinki Saturday morning and will practice shortly after arriving. The team will skate Sunday and then participate in a team outing before playing their eighth preseason game in nearby Tampere, the hometown of defenseman Ville Koistinen.
“Somebody calls me from there every day…asking for tickets,” said a smiling Koistinen, who has requested between 65-to-85 tickets for the game.
DeBoer said the team is “looking forward to getting to Finland.”
“We haven’t had a good start in this organization in probably five seasons,” he added. “And from my point of view, anything different from what has been going on here in the past I was open to. And we feel honored being one of the teams going to Finland.”
By the time the Panthers arrive back in South Florida Oct 4 at approximately 3 a.m., the team will have traveled approximately 14,000 miles during the preseason. When asked about the schedule earlier in the week, DeBoer said; “I used to have one of those Rolling Stones concert t-shirts and wondered how they could get to all those cities. I can appreciate that now; what it feels like. It hasn’t been easy…but we’re getting through it.”
Veteran forward Cory Stillman said he’ll treat the trip to Finland like a “normal road trip.”
“The language is different, but in today’s game with computers and movies, I look at it as if we’re going to the west coast for six, seven days. Except for the time change the other way, it will be fun. It’s nice to grow the game whether in Florida or (Finland).”
Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell
, who played the 2004-05 season in Finland, said the time change will be the biggest factor.
“You’ve just got to watch your naps when you get really tired in the afternoon,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure you set an alarm to get up, because I remember falling asleep at four o’clock and the next thing you know, you wake up and it’s nine or 10 at night. And that’s not a good thing, because then you’re not sleeping at night. So I think you really have to suffer through it for a day.”