In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, students pack BB&T Center for a rowdy practice, Jayce Hawryluk is close to returning to the lineup, and Aleksi Saarela is headed to the AHL.
SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers could hear the cheers long before they took the ice.
Opening their doors to local schools, the Panthers hosted approximately 6,000 local tri-county area students during a very loud and jovial practice at BB&T Center on Wednesday afternoon.
"It's fun to have a bunch of people watching practice," Panthers center Vincent Trocheck said. "It was fun to go out there and have some fun and get the kids into it. It's good for us and good for them to come out and see us. I could hear them 30 minutes before we even got out there."
As part of the NHL and NHLPA's Future Goals program, students learned about the sport prior to their visit by participating in Everfi's Hockey Scholar course, which utilizes 12 hockey-themed learning modules to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concepts.
Since its launch in 2014, Future Goals has benefitted more than 375,000 students.
"I wish they had that when I was a kid," Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said of the program. "That's a cool thing. The NHL does so many things to help out in communities with everything from school to afterschool programs… It's something that really helps out everyone."
Throughout the practice, Yandle kept the kids on their feet.
In between drills, the fun-loving defenseman was waving to crowd, raising his arms up and down to elicit some booming cheers and even flipped a few souvenir pucks into the stands.
"It was awesome," Yandle said. "I remember doing that as a kid. I went to a NHL practice and it was the same type of thing. I remember watching the practice and just being like, 'Ah, man, this is unbelievable.' To be able to do it now is great. They were into it, too. They were having fun."
At the end of practice, players put on a show for the students with a shootout competition.
"[The kids] were loud and having some fun at practice," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said, flashing a big smile. "I thought we had good pace in practice. The guys had some fun with the shootout afterwards, but I thought everybody enjoyed it. It was a good day."
The Panthers will return to action on Thursday when they host the New York Islanders.
SAARELA SENT DOWN
Prior to practice, Florida sent Aleksi Saarela to AHL Springfield on Wednesday.
Recalled from the Thunderbirds on Dec. 6, the 22-year-old forward made his NHL regular-season debut the following day and went on to compete in three games with the Panthers.
Centering Frank Vatrano and Noel Acciari on the team's third line in all three games, Saarela registered three shots and a pair of takeaways while averaging 11:41 of ice time per contest.
"I thought he got better every game," Quenneville said. "I thought he improved during the games as well. He thinks the game the right way. With the puck, he sees plays, makes plays."
Acquired in a trade with Chicago on Oct. 22, Saarela had racked up 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 17 games with AHL Springfield prior to earning his first recall. Still just three seasons into his professional career, the Panthers believe the 2015 third-round pick has a lot of potential.
"We like what he brought," Quenneville said. "He's a young kid that has a lot of upside with the puck and a tremendous shot. I thought the way he thought the game put himself in a good spot."
Florida's roster is now back down to 22 players.
WEDNESDAY'S PRACTICE LINES
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov
Mike Hoffman - Vincent Trocheck - Denis Malgin
Frank Vatrano - Brian Boyle - Jayce Hawryluk
Dominic Toninato - Noel Acciari - Colton Sceviour
MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad
Keith Yandle - Anton Stralman
Mike Matheson - Josh Brown / Mark Pysyk
Maintenance Day: Brett Connolly, Sergei Bobrovsky