Monday, January 7, 2013

A NEW WEEK: #FlaPanthers Ready to Move On, Get Things Going

On Frozen Pond by George Richards (@GeorgeRichards)

For the past four months, a handful of Florida Panthers have gone back in time, working out at the team's original practice rink in Lighthouse Point.

Although the ice is fine, the conditions at Glacier Ice Arena are threadbare compared to what NHL players have grown accustomed to.

Players had showers but no hot tub or whirlpool to help with minor injuries. They had an equipment manager, but old equipment. Instead of having a host of coaches on ice to keep things moving, the locked out Panthers hired local youth coach Vlad Cheremeta for motivation.

Those days are almost over as the Panthers are readying to move back to their multi-million dollar complex in Coral Springs later this week after the two sides came to an agreement to end the lengthy NHL lockout on Sunday.

"Everyone is excited about getting back to normal, getting back to hockey,'' forward Peter Mueller said. "We're ready to start the season off right. One of the good things about coming down here and spending time here was getting to know so many of the guys. We've built some chemistry and that's nice.''

Mueller never received new equipment from the Panthers before the NHL lockout went into affect on Sept. 16.

His black gloves, leftovers from his days with the Colorado Avalanche, have holes worn through the leather. The chin strap on his Colorado-issued helmet doesn't have much life left in it at all. And the smell coming from those gloves, Mueller says, is indescribable.

"It's going to be nice to finally get decked out in some Florida Panthers gear,'' Mueller said. "It will be nice to finally have some towels when we're done showering.''

Because the new collective bargaining agreement hasn't been signed by ownership nor the players, the Panthers who are in South Florida remain in practice facility limbo.

They packed up their stuff after Monday's workout not knowing where Tuesday's would be.

Even though many NHL players returned to their team's training facilities on Monday -- management from the Wild watched their players go through workouts in Minnesota -- Florida's players will practice at Glacier again on Tuesday.

"I'm more excited to see the trainers every day, crack some jokes with them,'' Tomas Kopecky said. "It's going to be fun to see everyone around the rink, the ushers on game day. We talk to them a lot. You don't appreciate the whole routine during the season until you lose it.''

The NHL's Board of Governors is expected to vote on ratifying the new CBA on Wednesday with the players thought to give their approval around the same time. Once the deal is signed, players will be free to return to their facilities and work with team personnel once more.

The Panthers are expected to open training camp at their $10-million Iceplex in Coral Springs on Friday with physicals and other testing. The first on-ice practice would be Saturday morning.

A 50 or 48-game schedule is expected to be released by the league once the CBA is ratified. The Panthers are said to be opening the 2013 season in Sunrise on Jan. 19.

"This was a long four months, but we've taken care of the business,'' Kopecky said. "Now it's time to play hockey.''

-- Stephen Weiss and Ed Jovanovski both said they were happy the lockout was close to being over and hoped fans would be quick to put the labor strife in the past.

"The game is bigger than all this,'' Weiss said. "This will all blow over. It's obviously not a positive thing for our sport right now but this is a great game with great people and players involved. It'll go on. It'll succeed and grow. Hopefully people come and support it because it's a great game.''

Said Jovanovski: "We apologize to the fans as far as how tough this is. We had a pretty successful year for this franchise and got some respectability back. .-.-. I hope they understand there is a business side to every sport. This had to be taken care of.''

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