Welcome to the latest installment of "Unpacking Panthers Uncaged" where we take a closer look into this week's "Panthers Uncaged," presented by Lexus. Let this serve as your spoiler warning, Cats fans - if you haven't watched episode four, check it out below.
Video: Panthers Uncaged: Episode 4
THINGS WE LEARNED
1. A select group of Cats returned to South Florida in style.
Like we learned in Episode Three, a handful of Florida Panthers players quarantined in Canada while preparing to resume NHL play. With training camp on the horizon, these cats had to make their way back to Florida.
Forwards Mike Hoffman and Owen Tippett, and defensemen Josh Brown and MacKenzie Weegar packed up and headed South to join the rest of the team at the Florida Panthers IceDen. To ensure safety (and rack up some style points) the group took a private jet to the Sunshine State.
"Yeah, it was great," Hoffman said of the arrangement. "We had a good time. We played some cards on the flight."
"The toughest thing was probably figuring out when we were going to leave based off of playoffs and the Return to Play," he said. "We decided on a date we thought works best for everyone to get back. [It would] give ourselves a week to start skating and getting ready for training camp."
By choosing to fly privately instead of on a commercial plane, the players sidestepped the mandatory two-week quarantine, which was the quickest route to return to the ice.
Ahead of being able to skate, however, they would need to take the same saliva-based COVID-19 test as their teammates had upon arrival.
"It took a couple of days," Hoffman noted. "I think it's a great opportunity for us. This probably won't happen again in our lives where there's this many teams getting accepted into [the postseason]."
Like all the other players, once the tests came back negative, the Canadian Cats were cleared to start gearing up for the upcoming training camp.
"Speaking for myself, and I'm sure everyone else in the same boat, we've had a couple of months to prepare and get ourselves and our bodies ready to play some good hockey," Hoffman added.
2. Coach Q is back in the building.
The head Cat is back at the Panthers IceDen facility, ready to do whatever it takes to get his team prepared for play. After completing his own COVID-19 testing, head coach Joel Quenneville is ready for training camp.
Of course, the seasoned bench boss has adapted quickly to the new normal.
"It's getting to be second nature," he said, grinning. "When you walk into a room [for a] meeting and see everybody with a facemask on is a whole different look. All of a sudden it's like 'Okay this is a first' and you capture that moment in your mind."
With the safety of players and staff top priority, it's imperative that the team adheres to the mandates health officials have put in place.
"The guys have been terrific," Quenneville confirmed.
3. There's a few Black Aces up the team's sleeve.
Once training camp began, the Florida Panthers wanted to make sure they did all they could to prepare for the Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the New York Islanders. The team plans to pull out all the stops for a chance to head to the next round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with leadership coming from veterans like Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau and captain Aleksander Barkov.
Even still, it never hurts to have a few Black Aces ready in waiting.
"Black Aces" is a term used to describe extra players added to a team's roster ahead of a postseason run. Typically, these players are rookies or come from a team's minor-league affiliate. These players, if called up to join the NHL club, are expected to step into the lineup at a moment's notice.
Tippett, fellow forward Eetu Luostarinen and defensemen Chase Priskie and Brady Keeper were among the select group to join the team in postseason play.
"It means a lot to be here," Tippett said. "Whenever you get to be a part of something going into the playoffs it's always special."
"I'm just trying to stay ready and take it all in as an experience whether I do get to get into a game here or I'm just along for the ride, I'm really grateful to be here."
What does the future hold for these young Cats? Anything can happen.
"With the younger guys, you look at each case," Coach Quenneville stated. "I think Tippy [Tippett] is [going] to turn out to be a pretty good hockey player and I think he's one of those guys that's going to be able to go into a game."
The boys have to be ready. After all, the Stanley Cup Qualifiers are just a hop, skip, and a jump away!
GIF OF THE EPISODE
When the coach speaks, the players listen.
NEXT TIME ON "PANTHERS UNCAGED"
The Florida Panthers make final tweaks as they prepare to head to Toronto. Get a behind-the-scenes look at how the players get to the bubble and hear from the guys as they talk about what it means to play in the postseason.
Need to catch up before tomorrow's game? Binge all episodes HERE.
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