During practice on Wednesday Panthers GM Dale Tallon said that he was leaning on keeping defenseman Erik Gudbranson
with the Panthers following the nine-game cutoff but wouldn't decide until Friday following the Panthers-Senators game.
With Gudbranson playing in his ninth game in his hometown Thursday night, the Panthers decided to bump that timeline up and surprise the 19-year old early instead. Head coach Kevin Dineen brought all of the players together on the ice following the morning skate and announced that Gudbranson would be sticking with the club for the season.
The players all mobbed Gudbranson for congratulations following the news.
"I sat there this morning and I was kind of wondering how I was going to deliver that," said Dineen. "A lot of times in this business, you're delivering bad news. It's nice to be able to let somebody know that that's a heck of an occasion, not only for him but for his family, for his minor league coaches. I think a lot of people can enjoy that.
"I thought about doing it after the game tonight but really, you know what, playing in your hometown, there's enough stuff going on already so I think it was the right call to let him know and let him know in front of his teammates as well."
"It was nice. My dad was in the crowd for morning skate so he got to see that," said Gudbranson. "That was nice for him. I'm still at a loss for words."
Gudbranson's dad Wayne, who was in attendance for practice on Wednesday and then watching the morning skate, teared up when he saw the scene happening before his eyes. All for good reason.
"As much as it's a dream for me, I'm pretty sure that it's twice as exciting for him to see his kid do that and I give them all the credit in the world," said Gudbranson. "Him and my mom, my brothers and sister. It's pretty unbelievable."
"I think it's great news for not only Erik but that's a reflection on your family as well and I don't think anything is given at this level," said Dineen. "You have to earn it and that's what he's done the last eight games."
In those eight games, Gudbranson has played well. Despite being a minus-four, he hasn't looked out of place, averaging 12:14 of ice time while partnering mostly with veteran Ed Jovanovski
. He's stuck up for his teammates when need be and hasn't backed down from anyone.
"I really felt confident coming into camp this year," said Gudbranson. "I was excited to be here. I felt like it was my time this year and to get the news this morning was awesome."
For Gudbranson, the weight is off his shoulders as he doesn't have to worry about going back to his junior team in Kingston.
"It was always in the back of my head," said Gudbranson. "I think I did a pretty good job of just leaving it there and not thinking about it while I was playing but definitely knowing that I'm a part of this team for sure now and staying for the year is awesome."
But Thursday night, it will be all about really starting his pro career in his home town, one in which he had to get about 25 tickets for family and friends.
"There's so many emotions going through stepping on the ice like that. In my home town, the team I grew up watching," said Gudbranson. "It's going to be awesome. I'm trying not to think of it. I'm trying to go out there and play a simple game and play well and be able to make a difference out there."