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Kindl, Berra Leading Springfield Thunderbirds

by Jameson Olive JamesonCoop /

As the Florida Panthers continue to succeed at the NHL level, the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, is currently finding their own success thanks to the presence of two battle-tested veterans - defenseman Jakub Kindl and goaltender Reto Berra.

The Thunderbirds (1-1-0) secured their first victory of the 2016-17 season on Saturday, defeating the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (1-1-0) by a final score of 2-1 at the Webster Bank Arena.

Thunderbirds center Brody Sutter, who the Panthers acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes last week, scored the game-winning goal by deflecting a point shot from defenseman MacKenzie Weegar past Sound Tigers goaltender Stephon Williams to make it 2-1 at 8:52 of the third period. 

In the end, that was all the support that Berra would need.

Berra, who the Panthers acquired from the Colorado Avalanche this summer, was absolutely brilliant in his first start of the season, stopping 17 of 18 shots in his Thunderbirds debut.

"I have to prove myself, work hard," Berra told the Miami Herald's George Richards in September. "We'll see what happens... I'm really happy to be here and I have my goals and I have to reach them."

The 29-year-old Berra has appeared in 62 games over the past three seasons with Calgary and Colorado after spending most of his career playing in his native Switzerland. His best season came in 2015-16, when he posted a 5-8-0 record with a 2.41 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 14 games for the Avalanche.

"I'm really happy to be here, happy with the trade,'' Berra said.

For the Panthers, Berra serves as both an NHL-caliber talent between the pipes in Springfield, while also acting as an insurance plan if anything bad were to happen to either starting goaltender Roberto Luongo or backup James Reimer in Florida.

"I think it's important in the new NHL to have three goalies who can play," Luongo said. 

Kindl, meanwhile, has been charged with keeping the puck as far away from Berra's crease as possible while serving on Springfield's top-defensive pairing. 

A former first-round pick (19th overall) in the 2005 NHL Draft, Kindl has recorded 70 points (16-54-70) in 292 career NHL games. Where the Czech Republic native really succeeds, however, is in driving possession for his team from the backend. 

For his career, Kindl boasts an impressive 56.8 percent Corsi For rating, which means that, more often than not, the puck is being fired at the opposition's net rather than his own when the 29-year-old defenseman is on the ice.
With this veteran presence in the defensive zone, coupled with a slew of talented home-grown forwards, there's no telling just how far the Thunderbirds will be able to go as they continue to impress during their inaugural season.

The Thunderbirds will then open their home ice schedule at the MassMutual Center on Saturday, Oct. 22 for Opening Night presented by MGM Springfield against the St. John's Ice Caps.

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