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Not Their First Rodeo

by Staff / Florida Panthers
San Antonio Rampage Play by Play man Dan Weiss shares his thoughts on some of the Florida Panthers’ recent young call ups from the Rampage, why their success in the NHL shouldn’t be a surprise, and some hot Cats prospects set to make the jump to the pros.

Forward Vincent Trocheck has spent time with both the San Antonio Rampage and Florida Panthers this season.

Many players who began the year with the Rampage are now in the Panthers lineup. Talk a bit about what that is like watching these guys grow and develop with your team and then move on to the NHL level.

Weiss: There's a tremendous sense of pride for the coaches, staff and even the players when they see someone who they skated with just yesterday show up on TV the following night wearing a Panthers jersey. I also think it keeps everyone focused and determined knowing that their opportunity to play in the NHL is just a phone call away. It is bittersweet for a fan though who wants to see their team win, but at the same time knows that their players are working for this chance.

The Rampage really seemed to come together during their annual Rodeo Road Trip away from the AT&T Center, during which they reeled off the longest winning streaks in the AHL all year. What was that experience like being on the road for an entire month? Does it provide an opportunity for the team to grow together off the ice and does that growth manifest itself in the team's on-ice success during the trip?

Weiss: You haven't experienced playing with the Rampage until you take your first "Rodeo Road Trip". This was the fifth one for me and they have all been unique. This year for example, we played seven games over 15 days in six different cities during the second leg of the trip, and still managed to mix in a mini two-day vacation to Niagara Falls in the middle of that. I think it's great for us as a group because all the time away from home allows the team to forge some important off-ice chemistry which can go a long way to determining whether you'll make the playoffs or not. A lot of guys also have family and friends come meet them on the trip, so that always adds to a pretty special experience.

Vincent Trocheck was a rookie with you guys this season. Talk about what you saw from him coming in from day one and how his game has progressed during his year with the Rampage.

Weiss: I saw a kid who talent wise the ceiling was seemingly unlimited, but more important was a player who loves to play the game and loves to battle. I think Vinny endeared himself to everyone in the room during the second pre-season game when Texas Stars tough guy Brock Montgomery delivered two punishing hits to Greg Zanon and Zach Miskovic, and Vinny is the one to go fight him in an attempt to stand up for his teammates. Pete Horachek had to remind him afterwards that he's not out there to fight, but I think that just showed the courage and the drive that he has as a player. Like most rookies though, it's been a season of ups and downs. Vinny went through a stretch in December where he was struggling offensively and was sat as a healthy scratch in Iowa, but he showed the maturity to accept the benching, bounce back, and continue to get better to put himself in the position that he is now.

Garrett Wilson just made his debut with the Panthers on Tuesday in San Jose. As a fourth round draft pick, it took a couple of years for Wilson to make it to the Panthers, but there are a lot of facets to his game that could help any team (hardworking, good defense, good size, physicality, etc). What are your thoughts on Wilson's game and how it will translate to the NHL going forward?

Weiss: Garrett has arguably been one of our most consistent players every night. He can rotate between all four lines, as well as play power play and penalty kill situations. He's a big body that is tough to move away from the front of the net, and is not afraid to drop the gloves to defend a teammate. His offensive game has certainly progressed over the last couple of seasons, and his size definitely makes him an asset at the NHL level. Considering how hard he has worked to get to where he is, Garrett is definitely one of those players you root for to get an opportunity. When he got the call a couple of weeks ago in Iowa, the entire team was genuinely thrilled that he was getting the chance to go up.

The Rampage have a number of talented young defensemen that have played with the team this season. We are familiar with Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic, who have both played for the Cats this season, but another D-man many have their eyes on is 20-year-old Jonathan Racine who we hear can be a bit of a bruiser out there. Talk a bit about what his game is like.

Weiss: Jonathan is a tough, stay at home defenseman who carries a bit of a mean streak. He started out in our bottom pairing this season, but has worked his way into a top four role. What the coaches truly appreciate about his game is that while he's prone to making a mistake like any rookie, he's quick to learn and correct and rarely makes the same mistake again. His teammates love his work ethic and what he brings to practice every single day, and I can see him having a long NHL career based on what he has shown in the AHL this season.

Forward Quinton Howden celebrates scoring his first NHL goal (Getty Images)

Quinton Howden has come up and made a big impact for the Panthers, scoring four points in six games so far. Compared to last season with the Panthers (when he went scoreless through an 18-game stint), Howden seems to have made some major strides in addition to showing great speed. What have you seen from him this season as he has continued to develop?

Weiss: The biggest difference in Quinton's game is that he has finally learned what his identity is as a player. He has made major strides in his two-way game, and has gained the confidence of the coaches to play in crucial situations late in games. No question Quinton's biggest asset is his speed, which is clearly at an NHL level, but his ability to manage that speed and tap into his strength is what has made him successful at the AHL level this season. As he continues to gain confidence and recognizes that he can skate with anyone in the NHL, he will be a dynamic player that can play in all situations and in all three zones.

The Panthers prospect system was recently ranked 3rd overall by The Hockey News. Which prospects currently playing in the junior ranks do you have your eye on and think could be in a position to make a real impact in the pro ranks soon?

Weiss: I think the collegiate prospects currently are the ones that Panthers' fans want to pay the closest attention to. Rocco Grimaldi and Kyle Rau are talented forwards that play for winning programs at North Dakota and Minnesota respectively. Mike Matheson and Ian McCoshen are two young offensive defensemen at Boston College who both could one day play contributing roles on the Panthers blue line. In the junior ranks, MacKenzie Weegar and Chris Clapperton are both having tremendous seasons in the QMJHL, and likely will continue to hone their craft in San Antonio before hoping for an opportunity to play in Florida.

The Rampage are very innovative with some of their in-game promos and contests. What have been some of the more popular ones this season and how have they been received by your fans?

Weiss: The Rampage and Spurs Sports & Entertainment do a tremendous job in promoting family, affordable entertainment, in particular to a non-traditional hockey market. Every weekend home game offers a different theme that our fans can really latch onto to help make a difference in our community. Some of our long standing promotions include "Pink in the Rink" where the ice is dyed pink in support of breast health awareness; "Military Appreciation Night" which allows us to pay tribute to our service men and women; and "Pucks and Paws" which gives fans a chance to bring their dogs to watch a Rampage game, as well as an opportunity to adopt dogs that need homes. Beyond that, we offer various groups different fan experiences from getting a chance to stand in the tunnel as the players head out for introductions, to singing the national anthem and performing on the ice during intermissions. All in all, it makes Rampage games an experience that goes above and beyond just what happens on the ice.

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