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Practicing In Helsinki

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
By Matt Sacco for

Helsinki - It looks more like the entrance to a theme park ride than a hockey rink, but it’s where Panthers head coach Pete DeBoer says he’s been able to do some of his first, real “teaching” of training camp.


Fitting then, that to arrive at Hartwall Areena’s underground practice facility, you must walk 100 feet downward, through a man-made cavern filled with painted hieroglyphic-like hockey stick figures, down to a claustrophobic facility built naturally into the structure of an enormous hunk of rock.

Here, fortified against any possible distraction – including multinational media, the hype surrounding next weekend’s NHL Premiere games vs. Chicago, or the allure of Finland’s most aesthetically pleasing natural resource (blondes) – DeBoer has run his Panthers through two extended practice sessions a mere 24 hours after arriving in this place via 11-hour overnight charter.

Having seen so much in this short amount of time, here’s what we know:

- The Sunrise Express line of Nathan Horton and David Booth flanking Stephen Weiss at center, continues to play together.

“Our plan is to start the season with those guys together, but obviously they have to produce,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer also mentioned one of the best things about his first line is that Horton is back at his natural wing position after doing an “admirable job” last year playing center.

- The man responsible for Horton’s move back to wing, is pivot Steve Reinprecht, who has consistently played with wingers Cory Stillman and Michael Frolik thus far in camp. Frolik has been one of the Panthers standouts at practice thus far in Finland.

- Finnish defenseman Ville Koistinen was reunited with his wife and children on Saturday afternoon, for the first time since joining the Cats in early September. He was also reunited with the International media, with whom he spent 45 minutes with on Saturday, conducting TV and newspaper interviews in two languages, while dealing with an entourage of photographers that would rival Ichiro. Koistinen expects at least 60 family and friends at the Panthers’ first Finnish exhibition game tomorrow against Tappara Tampere. Koistinen grew up in Tampere and could see the arena from his house.

- Nine defensemen are competing for seven or eight spots in camp. On the bubble are Jason Garrison, who spent last year in Rochester, veteran Christian Backman, who is on a tryout, and first round pick Dmitry Kulikov, whose contract status is uncertain.

“All three are prepared to play in the NHL right now and they all give us different things. With Dmitry, really the only knock on him is experience, which will come in time, obviously,” said DeBoer.

- The Panthers iced a checking line of Gregory Campbell, Radek Dvorak and Rostislav Olesz at practice today with Campbell at center. Last year Dvorak and Campbell joined Ville Peltonen on the vaunted CPR line. With Peltonen gone and Olesz now healthy, a new nickname is currently being discussed by the South Florida media.

- This afternoon DeBoer is taking the players and staff on a “double secret” team building exercise. All we know so far, is the participants can wear track suits and the outing somehow incorporates a boat and a sauna. More to come later.
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