CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - The Florida Panthers wrapped up the 2011 Rookie Tournament with a 4-1 win over Tampa on Wednesday afternoon at the Saveology.com Iceplex. This marks the Cats second defeat of the Lightning in Rookie Tournament play. The game was full of aggressive play from both teams, but it is without question that the Panthers outplayed Tampa Bay in every aspect.
Today’s standout players did not come from the offensive line, but rather it was the Panther’s defensive players D Colby Robak
, D Adam Comrie, and goalie Brian Foster
, who showed impressive play and stood there ground against the boards.
The first period seemed to be the most confrontational between the two teams with Florida receiving five minor penalties and Tampa Bay three. With less than one minute into the game, Florida Panthers player John McFarland
was sent into the box with a two-minute minor for interference. Tampa Bay came out strong with a good tape-to-tape passing game and aggressive play, but it was not long before the Panthers got their feet warmed up, and answered back to Tampa’s aggressors.
Thirteen minutes into the game the Panthers had their first chance on the powerplay and answered with a goal from Jonathan Hazen
in front of the net. Jonathan Huberdeau
assisted the goal and did a nice job setting up the one-timer.
At the 11:52 mark into the first period Tampa was playing aggressive trying to get the goal back, but Florida was right there with them playing strong defense. With Huberdeau and Tampa Bay player Radko Gudas already in the penalty box (both sent in for roughing), Hazen made some noise in the Panthers zone, roughing up a Tampa Bay player, and was given a two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. Panthers’ Jonathan Racine
and Lightning’s Brett Connolly joined him, both sent in the box for roughing. At this point, the Florida Panthers penalty box was crowded with three French-Canadian players named Jonathan, giving Tampa the 4-on-3 powerplay opportunity. Foster made a couple of noteworthy saves, helping Florida kill the penalty.
"(You) really smile about the hockey sense of these kids," said San Antonio head coach Chuck Weber. "We haven’t had much chance to practice and really work on (special teams). You draw things up on the board you show a little video and the way that they’re able to retain it and execute it with very little practice, as a coach, is something that is really rewarding. You know you make a little adjustment here, a little adjustment there and their executing it and picking it up and those are good signs of these players."
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At the 16:39 mark, the Panthers extended their lead when Robak took the puck behind the net and centered it back up to teammate McFarland who sent the puck in the wide-open net. It was a beautiful assist on Robak’s part.
"I was surprised he was even there," said Robak. "I had no idea he was even there I just kind of threw it to the front."
Another play worth mentioning was by LW Garret Wilson, who sent a Tampa Bay player back to his bench with a nice clean check, sending a strong message that the Panthers were here to play.
Tampa Bay went unanswered on their fourth powerplay attempt when Eric Sellek was sent into the box at 7:10 into the period. Tampa’s passing game looked good, but Foster did a great job of keeping the puck out of the crease during the Tampa powerplay. Foster really showed his skill during the second period, knocking down wrist shots left and right from numerous Tampa players.
At 11:24 into the period, Tampa switched out goaltender Pat Nagle and put in Jaroslav Jarus. When Tampa player James Wright
received a two-minute penalty for boarding at 13:07, Comrie capitalized on the opportunity and sent a snipe into the back of the net 14:46 into the period. Comrie’s shot was set up by Joe Devin.
The second period proved to be a strong one for the Panthers, as they did a good job recovering when they lost the puck, and staying aggressive and big on defense, wearing out Tampa Bay players.
“I thought that was out best second period of the tournament,” said Weber, “I thought that of the first two games the second was kind of our Achilles heel.”
At the start of the third period Florida led Tampa Bay 3-0. At 3:45 into the period, Tampa Bay center Tyler Johnson stole the pass and on the breakaway scored Tampa Bay’s first and only goal of the game.
Panthers used the goal as a way to gain momentum and were a strong force for the rest of the period. Foster again came up big with a few good saves. Overall, it was a lot of back and forth play from zone to zone with missed opportunities and Tampa tripping up on passes.
With 2:12 left in the game, Tampa Bay called a time-out and pulled their goalie giving them the extra-man advantage. It had no effect, and Panthers player Josh Birkholz
was given a goal by default after being hooked on the empty-netter breakaway 18:52 into the game. This put the Panthers up 4-1, which would be the final score of the game.
The game was not over yet though, and with the back-and-forth banter that went on throughout the whole game between players, there was bound to be a fight. With 1:08 left in the game, gloves were flying by the Tampa Bay bench and the one throwing the clean right hooks was Panthers player Eric Selleck
, who dominated the fight. He was given a five-minute major for fighting, two-minute minor for instigating and a game misconduct.
Though Tampa Bay won the shoot-out two to one, the Panthers finished up the Rookie Tournament strong, and went 6-and-6 in penalty kills during the game. Both teams played an aggressive game, with a total of 40 penalty minutes, but it was Florida who seemed to be the stronger team in overall skill and power.