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Stralman Settling into New Life with Panthers

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Anton Stralman is already settling into his new life in South Florida.

On Tuesday morning, the veteran defenseman, who joined the Florida Panthers on a three-year contract as a free agent on July 1, was on the ice at the team's practice facility in Coral Springs, preparing for the upcoming season after a long stint with the cross-state Tampa Bay Lightning.

"It feels really good," Stralman told after wrapping up his workout. "We made the move. Everybody's here. We're starting to ease into it and feel our way a little bit. It feels great. I also said it on the day that I signed, but from a hockey standpoint things are also very exciting and promising. I think this team has a bright future. I'm really excited to be here."

Sharing in that excitement is Stralman's wife, Johanna, and the couple's four children - Liv, 12, Lowve, 10, Belle, 8, and Leo, 7. In the weeks following free agency, the family has settled down in nearby Parkland, which is just a few miles from both the Panthers IceDen and BB&T Center.

But aside from that short commute, something Stralman said he "still can't believe," there isn't that big a difference between his old life and his new one. Unlike other players that tend to move from much colder climates, he's simply swapping one coast of the Sunshine State for another.

There are still plenty of palm trees and sandy beaches, balmy weather year-round and no sign of anything even remotely resembling a mountain for a thousand miles. He can still wear a T-shirt and shorts to work on most days, and it's unlikely he'll ever need to put on a pair of boots.

As his children grow older, however, Stralman admits that even a short move isn't easy.

Entering his 13th season in the NHL, the Tibro, Sweden native spent time in Toronto, Calgary, Columbus and New York before finally finding stability during his five seasons in Tampa. Unlike his first move to Florida, however, all of his kids are old enough to be affected this time around.

House hunting can be difficult, but school shopping for four kids might be harder.

"A little more groundwork needed to be done this time around," Stralman said with a smile. "But having done it a few times before, even though we didn't have to go school shopping right away then, it gives you experience in how to emotionally handle all the things. Not that it hasn't been stressful -- it has for sure -- but you can draw from those previous moves.

"It's things like getting to know new cities and towns. That's easy for me. I don't need to use GPS anymore. It's all mapped in my head. I think you gain so much from doing that. But there's obviously a lot of dimensions to it with the kids. They have their interests, their personalities and the things they want to do. You have to give and take a little bit."

That give and take was evident on Tuesday, when three of Stralman's four children (Liv was busy getting ready for her first year of middle school) tagged along with their dad to the rink. As he practiced, Lowve and Leo battled for loose pucks while Belle skated around the end boards.

"They were kind of forced to go with Dad today," Stralman said, shooting a fatherly gaze over to a couch full of blonde children watching TV in back of the Panthers IceDen. "We wanted to get them out of the house today and do something else, get a little skating in before starting school."

For Stralman, there is also a bit of a personal benefit to returning a few weeks early in order to get his kids enrolled in classes. While he's already being joined at the rink by fellow blueliner Aaron Ekblad, the rest of his teammates will trickle in sporadically over the next few weeks.

As they arrive, Stralman hopes to spend time with each of them individually.

"I think that's probably easier than coming into a full dressing room where all the relationships are already in place and you're trying to fit in somewhere," Stralman said. "Now I can be here when they get here to say hi. I feel at home already. It's a little more comfortable. I think that's a good thing. As they come in, you can get 1-on-1 time and get to know the guys a bit easier."

When his fatherly duties off the ice start to slow down, Stralman, 33, is expected to play a similar role with the Panthers. As one of only two defensemen over the age of 30 currently with the team, he's likely to serve as a role model for young D-men like Ekblad and Mike Matheson.

"I've had some great defenseman to learn from at all stages of the game," said Ekblad, who turned 23 in February. "They were battled tested. They'd won, they'd lost. They had a lot of great insights about hockey and about life. Obviously Anton's going to have that effect on me and players that were in a situation like I was in four or five years ago coming into the league."

A calm, steadying presence on the blue line, Stralman registered 29 goals and 101 assists while averaging 21:53 of ice time per game during his five seasons in Tampa, earning a place among the league's top-20 vote getters for the Norris Trophy on two separate occasions. Over the last three seasons, his 72 giveaways are also among the fewest by any defenseman in that span.

With more than 100 playoff games under his belt, he's come within one series of raising the Stanley Cup twice -- reaching the Final in 2015 with the Lightning and 2014 with the Rangers - and is eager to help the Panthers fight for a place in the postseason during the 2019-20 season.

But before the chase for the Cup starts in October, there's still one more hurdle to overcome.

"School starts next week," Stralman said. "That's the big thing."

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