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Stewart Aims To Clear Hurdles

Thursday, 08.02.2007 / 5:41 PM / News
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Stewart Aims To Clear Hurdles
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com

Hard times and tough luck have sometimes shadowed the NHL career of Anthony Stewart. But the right winger is determined to leave his mark this season on the Panthers and their fans.

“I’m going into my third year and it’s time for me to make an impression,” Stewart said.

Stewart’s desire to stake his claim with the Panthers has resulted in an off-season workout program in Toronto that includes training with former Canadian Olympic track star Ben Johnson.

And according to Stewart, it’s not all fun and games.

“Ben has a great personality and he’s a funny guy,” Stewart said. “But he can be your enemy if you’re not doing the right thing.”

Stewart, who met Johnson through a friend at York University, has been working with the former Olympian for nearly nine weeks as well as working on a program outlined by Panther strength and conditioning coach Andy O’Brien.

“I’m doing a lot of track work, a lot of 300 and 400 meter sprints,” Stewart, 22, said. “It really is a different kind of workout and I definitely feel a little faster. I think (the workouts) give you more flexibility. I think the team thought (my weight) was a bit of an issue, they thought I’d be best at a certain weight, and I’ve got to find that right weight.”

Stewart, at 6-2, 220-pounds, can be the prototypical power forward; a physical force who, in junior hockey, scored 30 goals three times. But 10 games into his NHL career, Stewart, the 25th overall selection in the 2003 Entry Draft, suffered a broken wrist against Carolina that effectively ended his 2005-06 season.

“It was pretty tough,” Stewart recalled. “I guess things happen for a reason. They say it takes you 10 or 15 games to get rid of the jitters and that was my 10th game when I got hurt. It was kind of like I had to start all over again.”

While Stewart was physically healed for the 2006-07 season, the year turned into an emotional struggle after the loss of his mother. The winger had 13 goals (27 points) in 62 games with Rochester in the American Hockey League. Stewart got called up three different times during the season by the Panthers and managed an assist in 10 games.

Reflecting on last season, Stewart said; “You’ve got to stay strong. We’re a tight-knit family and obviously it was very tough, but I’ve still got brothers and sisters and you have to remain strong for those who are still here.”

Panther GM and coach Jacques Martin believes Stewart has the “skating ability and the skill to play” in the NHL. Martin believes Stewart needs to focus his game a little more.

“He’s trying to play a finesse game versus trying to play more of a simple, up-and-down grind to the net,” said Martin earlier this summer. “When he grasps those concepts…he’ll have a better opportunity.”

When asked about making the Panther team out of training camp this season – likely a much tougher task this fall with the addition of forwards Ravek Dvorak, Richard Zednik and Bret McLean – Stewart said he’s eager for the challenge.

“It may seem (it’s going to be tougher), but I feel I’m an NHL caliber forward,” Stewart said. “You can’t look at the numbers. If you’re good enough, you’re going to earn a spot.”

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