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Panthers' Home Base Becomes Ice Oasis

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
(Socrates Gomez)

BY GEORGE RICHARDS for miamiherald.com

Pete DeBoer jokes that the first thing he would show prospective free agents is the beach.

The Panthers coach now has something else to show off: a showcase on the fringe of the Everglades that could prove to be more persuasive than Fort Lauderdale's sandy slice of the Atlantic.

The hockey team soon will boast one of the finest training facilities in the NHL, one that will be ready as players return from their offseason homes this summer.

The Panthers hope this facility -- which includes a regulation rink, a gymnasium-size workout room, locker room and office space for coaches and team management -- will be a big selling point when the free agency period opens July 1.

"We used to just drive guys by the facility and say `hey, that's where we practice. It has two sheets of ice,' and move on,'' acting general manager Randy Sexton said.

"Now, we're going to take them in. We're going to enter through the private entrance, show them everything we've built here. It's unreal. It really shows how committed our ownership is to making this a first-class organization. We now have a world-class facility. It's second to none in the entire league.''

Said DeBoer: ``It's real important for us to have this. The reality of the NHL is a team will spend most of its time at the training facility, probably more than they spend at their own home. To have a first-class facility will help us lure players here through free agency. Our old setup wasn't a plus. This is. We've talked about this for a long time. To see it all come together, and knowing how hard everyone worked is really amazing. Every detail has been taken care of. It's going to be a great place to work.''

CRAMPED QUARTERS

The Panthers have trained at incredibleICE in Coral Springs for more than a decade, and though that facility is fine for recreation, it was never right as a training facility for a professional hockey team. The team suffered through years of cramped quarters, although that will change this season.

The organization planned on building a new incredibleICE in Weston, with that facility being the team's new home. After that fell through, the team decided to expand the space it had in Coral Springs.

IncredibleICE, which was built with two NHL ice rinks, almost doubled in size, going from 75,000 square feet to 125,000 with the new addition. The facility also has more than 500 paved parking spots.

The hockey team has its own side to the building, and the public -- which will still be able to watch practices on the new ice sheet -- will not have access to the far side of the building. When the Panthers aren't using the ice, the public will. But the Panthers complex will be locked.

''We can let people in here to use the ice when it's not in use,'' said Jeff Campol, general manager of incredibleICE, who visited numerous facilities around the league during the design process. Campol said much of the Dallas Stars' complex was used in the Florida design.

Room where the new weight room will be (Socrates Gomez)
"But the training center is its own animal. No one aside from the team will be in there. This is for the Panthers.''

The Panthers spared little expense on their new digs, spending an estimated $10 million. And although it is not yet complete -- workers were putting up drywall and placing a team logo made of tile in the hot tubs Tuesday -- the team soon will have full run of the place.

Campol said the boards and glass will begin to go in Monday, with the test sheet of ice soon afterward. The team hopes to hold its summer goalie school on the new ice next month.

The ice will be the first aspect of the new building to be completed, with the training room to follow. Former strength coach Andy O'Brien designed that part of the building, one that will be filled with equipment and have a running lane going down the middle.

The Panthers hope the new facility will get players in earlier and keep them there longer. The team is also building a large players' lounge, which will feature large-screen TVs and various games -- video and otherwise. The team also will have use of a small movie theater to be used mostly for viewing game film.

Players also can unwind and get treatment in the large medical rooms, which feature cold and hot treatment pools. The locker room might be better than the one in the team's arena if only for the humidification machine in the ceiling, which quickly sucks up moisture from sweaty equipment.

By the time players return in August, the facility should be complete. And DeBoer can't wait to see their faces.

''They are not going to believe their eyes,'' he said. ``This will help with building team camaraderie. Guys are going to want to be here, hang out after practice. This is going to be a comfortable place to do your work. This is an expensive way to eliminate an excuse, but that's what it does.''

The Panthers also used this opportunity to go green. The ice sheet is illuminated by the latest in lighting technology, and at an extra expense of $30,000, the team purchased a fully electric Zamboni for ice surfacing.

BATTERY POWERED

Instead of running on propane or natural gas like the Zambonis at BankAtlantic Center, the new machine is powered by 40 industrial batteries. That means no more fumes, which is better for the environment.

''It cost a little more, but from an air quality issue, it pays off in the long run,'' Campol said. "We'll be one of the only places in the country with an electric Zamboni. We're trying something different around here. We waited so long to get this, we wanted to get everything that was needed. We didn't go overboard, but we didn't cut corners. This was all well thought out. It's a great facility that will serve the Panthers for years and years to come.''
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