Hockey is back.
While it will still be another week before the Panthers fans in South Florida see their team live for the first time this season when they host the Penguins in the home opener on Oct. 11, Florida kicks things off the 2013-14 season with a four-game road trip. It all begins Thursday night in Dallas.
"Great to get them going…We talk all summer. We're excited at the draft and at development camp and through training camp but talk's cheap. Let's get at it," said head coach Kevin Dineen following practice before the team took off for Dallas. "We're really looking forward to getting on the plane, spend the next eight days together with a real focus on hockey.
"It's a real exciting time for us."
"I think getting the season started, everyone is looking forward to it," said captain Ed Jovanovski who is close to returning from his off-season hip surgery. "It's a clean slate for everybody. We're entering into a new season."
With the season kicking off, the Panthers are still building off a late pre-season buzz in which they added five veterans following an ownership change. The additional players will provide depth throughout the lineup on a nightly basis and will hopefully help the Cats get off to a good start, despite opening up their 20th Anniversary season in four tough arenas, having to play in Dallas on Thursday, St Louis on Saturday, Philadelphia on Tuesday and Tampa Bay next Thursday.
"I think there's a positive energy," said goaltender Tim Thomas. "They're really looking forward to growing and getting better in the organization. I think new ownership brought a very positive direction to the team."
"We want to try and be as consistent as possible. We start tomorrow," said Jovanovski. "We have a good four games on the road and it's good team build as well, some bonding time. Hopefully we can get going off the right foot."
Taking last season off, Thomas will see his first action in about 15 months as Dineen has tabbed the former two-time Vezina trophy winner the Panthers opening night starter. Dineen, who is usually coy on who starts, announced that Thomas deservingly earned the start on opening night in Dallas.
"Tim Thomas will (get the start). For my first and last goalie announcement of the year, I usually don't go down that line," quipped Dineen before adding. "But Timmy is going to get opening night and very pleased with the way he has played over the last couple of weeks in practice and in the games that he came in. He's earned that net on opening night."
Following a year away from hockey, it's exciting for Thomas to get back into live action right away and help the Panthers move past last season.
"I'm very happy," said Thomas about getting the nod. "I'm looking forward to helping get this team off to a good start."
The decision came based on Thomas' work and Dineen said that it's something that his players can look towards the entire season.
"To me it is performance based, pretty well on every lineup decision that we're going to make this year," said Dineen. "Timmy has been really competitive in training camp here. I thought he played solid in Estero…and his game the other night, there was one of those seeing-eye dog bouncing pucks that found its way in but other than that, he's been really good.
“We look at him as a guy that can come here and be a big difference maker."
PANTHERS ON THE MEND
Listed on Injured Reserve to begin the season, Dineen said that forward Sean Bergenheim, goaltender Scott Clemmensen and Jovanovski were all making great strides and could be seen playing hockey sooner rather than later as the season kicks off.
"We're really excited that Sean Bergenheim has taken great steps. The last few days he's out there skating with the team which he hadn't in the previous three weeks so that's a real positive for us," said Dineen. "Eddie Jovanovski continues to improve in a positive manner and Scott Clemmensen has been cleared to play.
“A lot of good things have been happening for our organization."