Hey Panthers fans,
There's definitely a general aura of excitement up here in Toronto. Everyone's just ready to get back to it, to hit the ice and get this thing going. It's been about four months now since the shutdown, so we've waiting a long, long time for this.
Honestly, for a while it didn't seem like any of this was going to happen. Then, all of the sudden, it was go time. We're going into this with the right mindset. Playoff hockey is going to be another level. Everyone is going to kick it up another gear.
Ever since we arrived to the bubble on Sunday, everything has been well done. Sure, it was a little strange at first driving up to the walled-off area in our bus, but once we got through security it started to feel just like a regular road trip again.
I wanted to make sure that I felt at home, so I unpacked everything right away. I got it all kind of set up as if it was my own room back home. I didn't want to feel like I was living out of a suitcase, know what I mean? I wanted it to be like home.
I brought a few books and clothes, my Xbox to play with the other guys, all of the usual stuff. I also have my suit with me. I always bring at least one on road trips. I wasn't 100-percent sure about the dress code here, so I brought that just in case. I'm reading Fire & Blood by George R. R. Martin right now. If anyone is a Game of Thrones fan, it takes place about 300 years before that happened. It's all about Aegon and when he took over Westeros. I like the series and love the books, too.
We also have a group of guys that like to play a little Xbox in the team lounge. We've had some private lobby Call of Duty games for bragging rights. Those have been pretty fun. We also just hang out, play cards and watch hockey on TV.
There's lots of stuff for us to do here. I know some guys played spike ball in the common area. There are also two golf simulators if you want to hit a couple balls. They've done a pretty good job of having just things available to pass the time. Of course, we still have to do our temperature checks and COVID-19 testing in the morning, but other than that it's just been practicing and hanging quite a bit.
On the ice, it was good to get an exhibition game to just get our legs back under us and to adjust to all of the new in-arena stuff. I think some of the guys found it a little weird to play without fans, but I didn't really notice it after taking my first shift.
Whether it's piped-in fan noises or the real thing, I usually tune it all out anyways and just play hockey. I don't think that's going to be an issue at all moving forward.
It has been a little strange living in such close proximity to the other teams. You'll be walking around the rink or the hotel and it's just like, 'Oh, look, it's a guy from that team.' When you're on the road, you don't normally see anyone else. It's just you and your teammates. It kind of reminds me of a minor hockey tournament.
We're having fun with it, though. I remember we used to play mini sticks during those days. We haven't done that yet, but it might be fun to get that going here.
Heading into our series against the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, we know what we have to do to be successful. We have the right guys, the right coach and the right mindset. All of the games will be intense.
Thanks for reading,
*As told to FloridaPanthers.com's Jameson Olive