By David Aviles – University of Miami
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Day three of the Florida Panthers Training Camp started with a single whistle. Players rush onto both rinks of the Saveology.com IcePlex in Coral Springs. It starts with a practice on the middle rink but the real action begins at the Panthers Den as the teams take part in a Red vs White Scrimmage.
Panthers young guns and seasoned veterans alike carve up the ice in an hour-long scrimmage split into two halves. The crowd is three and four deep, filled with season ticket holders, children and fans of all ages; everyone eager to catch a glimpse of the action. Every hopeful on the ice works hard making every hit, shot and pass their best and making that a priority.
The buzzer ends the first half of the scrimmage in a 1-1 tie. Team White gets on the board first with a long shot from just inside the blueline by defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Tomas Fleischmann answers for Team Red before the 30 minutes is up. Despite the cold and the Zamboni intermission no one leaves their seat; fans fear losing them to those standing behind them.
Taking advantage of the free admission to all practices, the crowd builds for the second half of the scrimmage. The battle intensifies as players fight for recognition.
Forward Brad Boyes really shows off his puck handling skills as he works past defender after defender for a great shot into the net. Boyes, a free agent, rediscovered his scoring touch during the 2012-13 season where he scored 35 points in 48 games. But in the end it was Team Red pulling out the 3-2 victory as Eric Selleck and Garrett Wilson off a nice setup by No. 2 overall pick Aleksander Barkov propel the needed offense.
The scrimmage ends with a loud roar of approval from the fans. However, practice is not over yet. Coach Kevin Dineen divides the teams into separate rinks to begin a full drill session, pushing for perfection.
“You know, it’s really, let’s go to Monday before we get to that level,” said Dineen following practice. “There’s a lot of eyes out there watching individual performance, I would say I’m more geared towards how we’re playing as a team. In saying that, there’s some guys that stuck out that were on the bubble for games on Monday that worked themselves into that.”
After continued requests from the media for the name of one stand out, Dineen replies.
“I think (MacKenzie) Weegar has done a really good job,” said Dineen. “You know a kid, the 7th round pick, that came in here and I had no preconceived notions about this kid. Just by his play I think he’s done a good job of separating himself from the group.”
When asked whom he would definitely keep on the roster, Billy Girard, JR Panthers goalie and diehard fan says, “Matt Gilroy. He looks like he could be a good part. He can play offense, for the forwards to keep up.”
Defenseman Matt Gilroy was signed to a one year, two-ways contract this July. As a former NY Ranger and Ottawa Senator he brings experience to the front line.
After today’s action it is obvious some difficult decisions are ahead to finalize the roster despite plenty of time to formulate it. Every prospective player treated each second like it was their last.
The final team practice before the Cats’ first pre-season game is on Sunday at the Saveology.com Iceplex.