The ice is down, the sticks are taped and the Panthers are ready to lace up their skates again as they prepare to take on the Dallas Stars for the first game of the 2014-15 preseason.
The Panthers found success against Dallas last year, sweeping the season series against the Stars, as they opened the season in Dallas with a 4-2 win. In that road victory, C Aleksander Barkov scored his first NHL goal, a goal that made history as he became the youngest player to score an NHL goal in 70 years.
But that’s the past. Now the Panthers set their sights on the approaching season with the preseason being the first bridge to cross. LW Jonathan Huberdeau is one Panther who is eager to begin playing again and return to the form that not only made him a fan favorite, but won him a Calder Trophy for the 2012-13 season.
“I’m feeling 100 percent. I’m stronger,” said Huberdeau.
“I feel stronger in the corner against the bigger guys, that’s what I needed to work on. I got my confidence back, I think I lost it last year and now I just want to have fun and get better every day.”
When it comes to the preseason, the roster is always a healthy mix of talent from deep within the organization. The Panthers have no shortage of that, as they currently possess a roster of 50 players to choose from for their exhibition games.
After being acquired late last season at the trade deadline from the Chicago Blackhawks, C Brandon Pirri proved himself to be NHL ready after posting 14 points (7-7-14) in 21 games for the Panthers and is part of that deep talent pool of young players the Panthers possess.
Pirri’s adjustment to South Florida was an easy one as he was reunited with ex-Blackhawks teammates, Jimmy Hayes, Dylan Olsen and Brian Campbell. Now another familiar face for Pirri joins the Panthers this season in C Dave Bolland. Pirri spent a summer living with Bolland as an 18-year old after being drafted by Chicago. Now reunites the two reunite on the ice tomorrow and Pirri is ready to “hit the ground running” this season.
“We’re all just focused on winning”, said Pirri about this new look Panthers team.
“Everyone’s competing for jobs right now and we’re all pushing each other to be better every day.”
Impressed with the compete level and commitment at training camp this year is Cats Head Coach, Gerard Gallant. As an ex-NHLer himself, Coach Gallant knows how beneficial the preseason is for his players.
“For me as a coach I’m happy to have some good practices, but overall it’s good for the players”, said Gallant.
“They want to play these exhibition games, they want to get it going. That’s really when training camp starts. We work hard, we have some good scrimmage games, we have some good practices, but really when the guys start playing the exhibition games against the other competition it’s a lot more fun.”
Huberdeau, who was coached by Gallant during his days in junior hockey with the Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL) is excited to join back up with his old coach, and feels that he can be a great asset to the Panthers.
“The guys are really happy”, said Huberdeau about the team’s reaction to their new coach.
“I think it’s been going pretty well. He’s a guy that’s really simple, I think the guys are going to like it. He likes to talk to every player, so it makes you feel like you’re really a part of the team and I think that’s what we need. I think Gerard will bring our team closer.”
Positivity surrounds the team as they embark on the beginning of a new chapter for the Florida Panthers. A sense of excitement from players and personnel alike is infectious as the team is ready to give fans another night of Hockey in South Florida tomorrow night.
The puck officially drops at the BB&T Center, Wednesday Sep. 24 at 7:30pm. You can listen in on 560 WQAM.