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Tonight we had our first game experience at Helsinki’s Hartwall Areena, where the Panthers will take on the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday and Saturday, and I have to say I walked away impressed.
The fans were great – focused and passionate about the game – the sightlines were premium from nearly everywhere in the arena, and there was a touch of home with the BankAtlantic Center’s own Bill Murphy on the PA.
It was also nice for our Panthers to get back on the winning track in a 4-2 victory over hometown Finnish Elite League team Jokerit. The Cory Stillman-Steve Reinprecht-Michael Frolik line did the damage for the Cats, with Stillman finishing with two goals and first star of the game.
Literally, I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep tonight, and not because of jetlag. I’m just chomping at the bit for the season to start on Friday. It feels like it’s been forever, and maybe it has, since our last meaningful hockey game, when your Panthers took down Washington on the last day of the season.
But finally the 2009-10 season is upon us. For our fans back in South Florida, you’ll get to enjoy the NHL Premiere from the comfort of your own home, and hopefully, continue the countdown to Opening Night October 10 when regular season hockey returns to the BankAtlantic Center and the Panthers take on the Devils.
Having spent the last few days with our team, I know how much it means to the players and coaches to be starting the season and to, hopefully, settle the unfinished business of making the postseason. We were so close last year – losing out in a tiebreaker to Montreal – that I’m sure our players will enter the year focused on getting off to a good start.
Last night I had the opportunity to spend some time with coach Pete DeBoer, assistant GM Randy Sexton and players Ville Koistinen, Michael Frolik and Scott Clemmensen
. They joined me at a special reception for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, down the street from our hotel.
It was a great event for the CVB, who got to entertain some special guests that they work with on a regular basis, and for me, I was overwhelmed by the excitement and the passion I saw from our players, as well as Pete and Randy. They just can’t wait to get the season started.
Afterwards, I went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant called Gastones, yes they have Italian restaurants in Helsinki, with two of our owners – Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel – as well as radio announcer Randy Moller, and some of our other staff members.
I know Randy is working hard to make sure we have plenty of radio coverage in the coming weeks, especially as we build the buzz toward Opening Night. Speaking of which, make sure you continue to log on to NHL.com and FloridaPanthers.com for regular coverage from Helsinki, and make sure you read Pierre LeBrun’s excellent David Booth feature on ESPN.com – national coverage for your Cats. Talk about Feeling the Growl!
Thanks for reading and make sure to check back soon for more.