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VanMurph's View: Weekend Review

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Murphy and Vanessa Burch
In just another attempt to bring the fans closer to the team and vice versa, would like to introduce our newest fan blogger, Murphy Burch. Joining YourBlog's Cliff Peeke, Murphy will be writing about his views on the Panthers for this season.

Murphy, an airline pilot originally from North Carolina, is better known as vanmurph on the Panthers message boards and he, along with his wife Vanessa are two of the most vociferous fans at the BankAtlantic Center.

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On the way out of the BankAtlantic Center last Thursday night, I was asked by a fellow Panthers fan if the 6-2 loss to the Wild was going to be enough to push me to write my first negatively-tinged blog entry. Trying not to sound too Pollyannaish, I jokingly asked her, “Are you kidding, did you see the old-fashioned beat down Belak put on Boogaard? That was one of the best fights I’ve ever witnessed!”

Even though we ended up with the short end of the stick, there were some positives to be taken from the game. Watching Wade send Boogaard directly from the ice to the dentist’s chair was definitely one of them. The heavyweight bout couldn’t have come at a better spot in the game. We were behind against a tough Minnesota team, and it gave the crowd a reason to stand up in excitement and momentarily forget the disparity on the scoreboard. While I don’t necessarily wish ill on anyone during a fight, if it’s between them and us, it might as well be them…

One other quick positive from that game: The play of Keith Ballard and Gregory Campbell.  Ballard skating coast-to-coast with the puck through the Wild’s defense a couple of times during the evening was a beautiful sight to behold! Watching that guy play hockey makes me thankful he’s going to be a Panther for 6 seasons after this one! Besides checking people with the intensity of a mid-size SUV, he also handles the puck like it’s an egg, and he skates down the ice like he just stole something! With the combination of Ballard and Boynton, there is no question we got the better end of the trade with Phoenix.

Campbell’s play has always impressed me. He’s developed into a scrappy guy who’s not afraid to drop the gloves, and he doesn’t hesitate to step up and take things to the next level in defense of his teammates. His aggressiveness in retaliation for a dirty hit on Rusty late in the game on Thursday brought me to my feet in applause. His development over the last couple of seasons is admirable. Evidence of his desire to improve his game is the fact that he is generally one of the first guys on the ice during practice, and one of the last guys to head back into the locker room. That Booth-like work ethic has quickly made him one of my favorites on the team.

On Thursday, T-Vo didn’t play his best game against Minnesota, and I think knew it. I say that because when Vanessa and I walked into the BankAtlantic Center two days later for the morning skate before the Islander game, he was already out on the ice stretching, while everyone else was still in the locker room. Shortly thereafter, Pierre Groulx and Gregory Campbell met him in front of the net and they went back to the basics, working side to side, high and low. They spent the better part of the session on the fundamentals in front of the net.  If there is anyone out there who doesn’t believe our goalie is working to refine his abilities, I challenge you to come to a practice session and watch his efforts for yourself. T-Vo is a leader, and it’s obvious he isn’t afraid to shoulder the blame when his play doesn’t measure up to his expectations. Just as obvious is that he is a consummate professional and is always working to improve himself, right down to the foundational aspects of his position.

The Islander game on Saturday was a diametrically different game than the one against the Wild. Besides the lights-out performance by Vokoun, we also witnessed a defensive clinic, and a defensive goal scored by Boynton (The game-winner). If things continue throughout the season the way they have through the first five games, I have a feeling I’ll be repeating the “our defense looks awesome” mantra. Skrastins, Ballard, Boynton, Bouwmeester, et al have played very well in my opinion, and even in Monday night’s 3-1 loss to Montreal, they played a solid game on both ends of the ice. I told Vanessa the Panthers remind me of a baseball team that keeps hitting line drives right at the other team. Sooner or later, those line drives start falling, and the team starts winning. There are only so many point-blank wristers off Horton’s stick that’ll be saved. So far, he’s been robbed twice on strong shots inside of 3 feet.

Monday’s loss to the Canadiens was a heartbreaker, but there were a number of things that left me feeling ok about it:

-The coverage provided by Versus was not the type of coverage we typically get from the national media. The gang at Hockey Central was upbeat about the play of the Panthers and the prospects for our season.  It was refreshing not to have to wince when listening to someone outside of FSN talk about our team.

-The interviews with Zednik, Booth, and Coach DeBoer were all well done. The guys looked polished and they reinforced the favorable energy surrounding the team. The interview on the bench with Coach DeBoer was an important one for us to see. It showed that he was not happy for the same reasons we were yelling at our TVs.

-The Panthers’ gritty play seemed to be turning heads and gaining the respect of the fans in the Bell Centre. It may not seem like a positive, but they are some of the smartest fans in all of hockey, and when they appreciate your team, it says something. 

-The Panthers out-shot Montreal, and created a ton of scoring chances.

-The Penalty-Kill Unit was simply unbelievable!  They held the Canadiens’ PP unit to only 1 shot in their first 3 power plays.

-Have I mentioned our gritty defense? These guys remind me of a bunch of construction workers out there. I bet if you went into the locker room, you’d find lunch boxes and hard hats.

I’m calling it now; when our Power Play Unit hits it’s groove, we are going to win a lot of games. It’s not like they’re not trying to score goals, it just seems that things aren’t falling into place yet. Luckily, they have 77 games left, plenty of time for it all to come together. It seems odd to say, but I was actually proud of our guys after that loss. If we keep playing like we did in Montreal, good things are in store for this team.     

A couple of other things before I end this entry:

Morning Skates Open To The Public

Earlier I mentioned the Morning Skate at the BankAtlantic Center. If you haven’t had an opportunity to make it to the arena for one, I would highly recommend that you free up the time and head on out. There is no charge for the experience, and you’re able to sit right down on the glass and watch the Panthers prepare for that evening’s game. It’s also a favorable time to shop at Pantherland without the heavy crowds generally encountered on game nights.  Vanessa and I really enjoy going to watch our guys skate. We usually get an early start by going to breakfast at the Hometown Buffet in Davie, then out to the arena by 10:00. After the Morning Skate, we almost always go to lunch with friends who were also there watching. It’s a fun way to see our team up-close, and to share the early part of game day with fellow Panthers fans.

The Florida Panthers First-Timers Program

The Panthers organization has instituted a program in which EVERYONE with a Florida Drivers License can sign up for a pair of free tickets to a Panthers game of their choice. If you’re dissatisfied with sitting in a half-empty arena, take a look at this link, and forward it to everyone you know! If the program works, it’ll be a terrific way to introduce prospective fans to the excitement of Panthers hockey!

The first game I ever attended was at the suggestion of my Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Al DeSimone. The conversation went like this; “So, are you a hockey fan?”  To which I replied, “Not really”.  Dr. DeSimone then asked, “Well, have you ever been to a game?” I said, “No.”  Then he said, and I’ve used this line dozens of times since then, “Well, then you don’t know if you’re a hockey fan”, and he gave me two complimentary tickets to a game. I was hooked from the minute I walked into the arena. Since then, Vanessa and I have shared the game of hockey with a lot of our friends who were not fans, and they’ve become avid followers.

Over the next couple of weeks, the Panthers have a pretty tough schedule, playing 7 of 9 on the road. Looking at the remainder of the season, this is one of the two most difficult stretches we’ll face.

This Friday evening, members of the Cowbell Club will be out in the Northeast parking lot for a tailgate before the Panthers take on the San Jose Sharks.  You’re more than welcome to come on out and enjoy yourselves with us!  Puck drops at 7:30, and the tailgate will begin around 6:00.

Thank you for checking in on the blog.  My next entry will most likely be after this weekend’s games.


If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, or if you just want to say Hi, I can be reached at:

Thank you to everyone who emailed me after the last blog entry.  It was a pleasure to correspond with each of you.

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