Florida Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen embraces changeScott Clemmensen, one of the few holdovers from last season’s team, is eager to meet new teammates, including goalie Jose Theodore.
BY GEORGE RICHARDS
Scott Clemmensen did not hear about all the new teammates he will have this season until late Friday night.
It’s not that the Panthers goalie did not care about the many moves his team made. Clemmensen was on Florida’s Gulf Coast, soaking in a little vacation time before he and his wife Vanessa welcome their second child in the coming weeks.
As excited Clemmensen is about the new addition to his family, it seems like he is just as ready to get to know all the Panthers’ new additions.
“No doubt, the team is going to have a completely different complexion,” Clemmensen said, referring to the Panthers adding players through signings or trades since June 24.
“The entire team feels new. We have a new coach, a majority of the players are new. It’s going to feel like a whole new organization come training camp. I’m excited about it, excited about getting the season going. We have a new team, new players. It’s an exciting time.”
Of course, one of those new players is a goaltender.
Veteran Jose Theodore was signed as a free agent after Tomas Vokoun — whom Clemmensen had backed up the past two seasons — tested the free agent market.
Vokoun’s signing with Southeast Division rival Washington has many wondering who will start for the Panthers. Theodore, who signed a two-year deal worth $3 million, is expected to have the upper hand on the competition when training camp opens.
Clemmensen is fine with that. A career backup who spent eight seasons shuttling between the NHL and the minor leagues, Clemmensen refuses to shy away from competition.
“Even though I have a new goalie partner, I’m looking at this as I have in years past,” said Clemmensen, who has appeared in 54 games with the Panthers during the past two seasons. “I’m preparing to play, be it every game or every other. I’ve been around the block a few times. I know how quickly things change — both good and bad. All you can do as a player is prepare yourself. When you get the chance to play, take advantage. Play the best you can.
“There are no guarantees thrown my way. Never have been. I just want a chance. I’m a guy who has had to battle, scratch and claw to get into the league. I wasn’t a first-round pick, haven’t been handed anything on a silver platter. I’ve had to work for everything I’ve gotten. That won’t change.”
Theodore was signed with the thought he would be the starter, but Florida would be fine with Clemmensen if he plays well in training camp and the season.
Even though this is mostly a new team, Panthers management and the team’s fans know Clemmensen. After a rough start during the 2009-10 season, Clemmensen finished strong.
Because he is a free agent next summer, Clemmensen is expected to have a strong camp and push Theodore for playing time. The Panthers are banking on it.
Clemmensen, 33, is one of a handful of holdovers. Clemmensen, Stephen Weiss, David Booth, Keaton Ellerby and Dmitry Kulikov are the Florida veterans now, the only regulars who have been with the team more than a season.
Two years ago, the Panthers finished last in their division for the first time in franchise history. Last year, the team sunk to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Clemmensen said although that was painful to be a part of, fortunes appear to be changing rapidly.
“All of the players on the team were frustrated because of our win-loss record and the way the last few years have transpired,” Clemmensen said. “You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t frustrated. It was felt throughout. I think that frustration level is normal. But with [general manager] Dale Tallon and [assistant GM] Mike Santos here, there’s a fresh outlook. Almost everyone is now detached from past struggles that have plagued this team. There is a separation from the past 10 years.
“The Panthers are moving forward, starting from management on down. There are so many new faces. It’s a good thing.’’