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The Return Of Weiss

by Alain Poupart / Florida Panthers
Center Stephen Weiss, the Panthers first pick (fourth overall) in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft owns franchise records for most games played (654) and assists (249). (Getty Images)

It was just like old times Monday night for Shawn Matthias and Stephen Weiss when they had dinner together.

Well, there were two minor differences.

For one, this time it was Matthias who did the cooking unlike earlier in his career when Matthias lived with Weiss for two years. The most significant change, of course, is that Matthias and Weiss no longer are teammates.

Weiss is back in South Florida, but this time it’s as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, who the Panthers will face Tuesday for the second time in four nights.

This game, though, will mark Weiss’ return to the BB&T Center, the place he had called home for the past decade.

“It’s special,” Matthias said after the Panthers’ morning skate Tuesday. “He came over for dinner last night and we talked about it a bit. It means a lot to him and he’s excited for the game. He’s going to push a little extra. He wants to have a big night here. I’m happy for him, but at the same time I don’t want him to have too big of a night.”

About an hour after Matthias spoke, it was Weiss’ turn after the Red Wings’ skate and he was greeted by a group of reporters.

Yep, this is a big deal, both in Detroit and South Florida.

“First time back, real excited to get the game under way,” said Weiss, whose South Florida dinner also included defenseman Erik Gudbranson. “The last few days I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. I’m just real excited to start.”

It’s actually been strange watching the Panthers play this season and not seeing Weiss in the lineup.

After all, he had been a fixture since the 2001 NHL Draft when the Panthers made him the fourth overall pick.

When he signed with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent in the offseason, Weiss left as the Panthers’ all-time leader in both games played and assists.

Clearly, the organization appreciates Weiss’ contributions through the years, which is why he’ll be recognized with a video tribute on the giant center-ice scoreboard during the game.

For Weiss, just walking into the BB&T Center Tuesday morning was a weird sensation.

Weiss is in his first season with the Atlantic Division rival Red Wings (Getty Images)

“It felt strange for sure,” Weiss said. “I really didn’t know which way to come in the building, didn’t know really where to go when we got in. A different feeling for sure coming to the rink.

“Like I said, just excited to get the game under way, but it certainly feels a little bit strange being on the other side.”

Weiss didn’t get on the scoresheet Saturday night when the Panthers recorded a 2-1 victory at Joe Louis Arena.

“It was weird the last game,” Panthers forward Tomas Fleischmann said. “I think it’s going to be really weird for him (tonight). For me, I’ve been through it. It’s tough going out to play in the rink you know and you were sitting on the other side on the bench. It’s a weird feeling. But he’s been a pro for a long time. I think he’s going to get through it.”

As he looked ahead to the matchup Tuesday night, Weiss also looked back at his time with the Panthers, which ironically began at the BB&T Center (then named the National Car Rental Center), which was the site of the 2001 draft.

When asked for the memories that stand out from his time with the Panthers, Weiss mentioned two.

“The draft is one for sure and then fast forward to nine or 10 years later winning the division for the first time,” Weiss said. “Clinching a playoff spot was pretty special for me having stayed here for a long time and not getting a chance to do that. To finally break through for one season was something I was proud of.”

Weiss is wearing a different jersey now and he’s got a new number, too. He wore 9 with the Panthers, but that number belonged in Detroit to the legendary Gordie Howe and has been rightfully retired.

Tuesday night will be all about trying to win a hockey game for Weiss, whose team hasn’t played since losing to the Panthers. That doesn’t mean he didn’t enjoy seeing his old teammates again.

Said Weiss: “It was fun to catch up and tell some stories and see those guys again.”

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