SUNRISE, Fla. – No matter how far they venture from BB&T Center, the Florida Panthers never feel far from home.
That’s not to say players don’t miss the amenities of their own homes or long for South Florida’s favorable temperatures as they watch the leaves fall from their hotel room windows, but rather a sign of how close the team has become in only a year’s time.
“Last year, we had a lot of new guys. It wasn’t really the tight-knit group we have now,” said forward Vincent Trocheck. “We’re comfortable with each other and everybody on this team is close. It makes road trips a little easier.
“You get in a different city and you have guys to go out to dinner with and stuff like that. It makes everything seem like you’re at home.”
The Panthers, who are off to a 3-2-0 start, kickoff their first three-game road trip of the season on Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins before moving on to face a pair of high-octane offenses in Chicago and Dallas.
“We have a big group that goes out to dinner,” center Nick Bjugstad said of his plans for the trip. “It’s a revolving deal so we have different guys eating with each other and everyone enjoys each other’s presence.”
While the majority of his teammates gather to sample the local cuisine, Trocheck has made it clear that he has other plans for his upcoming trip to Steel City. A Pittsburgh native, the 22-year-old says he will forgo a night out with the team in favor of spending time at his parent’s house with family and friends.
“I love Pittsburgh,” said Trocheck, who expects to have anywhere from 50-60 guests cheering him on at the CONSOL Energy Center. “Being able to go home and play in front of my family it’s always exciting. They come a lot of places and I always seem to play better whenever my family is there.”
And although his teammates will undoubtedly miss his presence at the dinner table, Trocheck already has what he believes is a surefire plan to make it up to them.
“Last year, I had my grandma cook,” said Trocheck. “I brought everyone some homemade Italian cooking, so I’ll probably do the same this year. If there are five of us, she’ll make enough for 50. There should be enough to go around.”
PIRRI HAPPY TO GET A FEW HELPERS
Making headlines for his entrees far more often than side dishes, Panthers winger Brandon Pirri is relieved that he didn’t take too long to surpass his uncharacteristically low assist total from last season.
Pirri, who finished last season with 22 goals and two assists, giving him the honor of having the one of the most lopsided goals-to-assists ratio in NHL history, needed only three games to notch his third assist this season in in a 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 13.
“I’d have to be doing something wrong if I put up two assists this year again,” said Pirri, who recorded 132 assists in 238 American Hockey League games. “Am I surprised I’ve got three assists so far? No.”
While it comes as no surprise that a player with Pirri’s offensive skillset would waste little time in putting last season’s enigmatic stat line behind him, the 24-year-old admitted that watching Dallas Stars goaltender Antti Niemi register two assists in a single game earlier this season certainly added some extra motivation.
“I got chirped a little for that,” Pirri said with a smile.
- Aleksander Barkov recorded his third goal of the season in a 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Saturday night. It took the 20-year-old center 29 games to reach that same mark last season.
- Florida’s line of Barkov (3-3-6), Jonathan Huberdeau (0-2-2) and Jaromir Jagr (4-3-7) have combined for seven goals and 15 points in their first five games.
- Roberto Luongo will enter Tuesday’s game at Pittsburgh needing only one win to surpass Grant Fuhr for sole possession of ninth all-time in goaltender wins (404).
- Brian Campbell has played 309 consecutive regular season games and 299 consecutive regular season games in a Panthers uniform.