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It took a few days but I finally feel acclimated to the time and climate difference here in Helsinki. I have to hand it to our players, who got off the plane on Saturday morning, and basically headed straight to Hartwall Areena for an intense 90-minute practice with head coach Pete DeBoer.
As coach told the media on Saturday and Sunday, this has been one of his first real opportunities to “teach” his core group of guys, since much of training camp has been spent playing exhibition games and travelling with two separate groups of players. In a sense, travelling halfway around the world to the Finnish capital has restored some normalcy to our squad.
Personally, I’ve been positively overwhelmed by the experience so far. Thanks to a hectic work schedule, I don’t get to spend much time travelling, so it’s been an absolute joy to be in this city, interacting with the hockey loving culture, and appreciating the blend of classic and contemporary architecture.
It’s certainly a different feel from South Florida, what with the temperature in the 50s, and an almost constant cloud cover. But having toured the city with Panthers Vice Chairman Cliff Viner, Managing Director Stu Siegel and others, it’s clear the Finnish people are doing their very best to make us feel comfortable and at home.
But as much as I’ve enjoyed the sightseeing, people watching, and eclectic dining we’ve been able to do, this trip is, after all, about business. And our business, after all, is hockey. Tonight, we finally got to see our team in game action against local Finnish Elite League team Tappara Tampere.
From Helsinki, Tampere is about a two-hour bus ride North through the beautiful, wide-open Finnish countryside. Tappara’s home rink is actually home to two professional teams, similar to say Giants Stadium or the Staples Center in LA, but that’s where the comparisons end.
Intimate is how I would describe this smallish rink where the passionate Finnish fans, decked out in white, blue and orange come to support their team, but also to welcome our Cats to a foreign land.
For myself, Cliff, Stu and the rest of our group, it was certainly worth the two-hour trip, as it was only our second opportunity to see our team in real game action – after last Wednesday’s 4-1 preseason game vs. Dallas at the BankAtlanic Center.
Despite the 3-2 shootout loss, it was a great overall experience and, with no practice tomorrow, I’m sure our players will be rested and energized by Friday’s opener.
All told the Cats are 4-3-1 in preseason play thus far. And with only a few more player decisions to be made before we’re down to our regular season playing roster, tonight’s game only made me that much more excited for this weekend’s games.
Back home, most of our fans won’t have an opportunity to see our team live again until Saturday night Oct. 10 – Opening Night vs. the New Jersey Devils. (Unless of course you attend the Panthers Foundation Face-Off Luncheon at Signature Grand by calling 954.835.7605 or by logging on to FloridaPanthers.com) And believe me when I tell you, our staff is focused on making Opening Night an incredible experience for everyone who attends.
It will be game four of our season when the Cats finally bring meaningful hockey back to the BankAtlantic Center, and we want out players to know how glad we are to have them back in South Florida.
I know our sales staff continues to work hard to make Opening Night a sellout, as well as to assure big, passionate crowds for all of our October and November home games. Meanwhile, our marketing department has officially unveiled our “Feel The Growl” campaign, with media exposure beginning to pop up all over the tri-county area.
While the Cats are away, the “Center of it All’ remains busy, with Metallica headed to Sunrise this week, and an exciting schedule of events on tap from now until the new year.
For now though, I think Panthers hockey and the dawn of a new season is at the top of all of our minds. Tomorrow I expect to have dinner with Coach DeBoer and Assistant GM Randy Sexton, and I’m sure their excitement about our team will only make me more anxious to get the season started.
Thanks for reading and go Panthers.