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Battle In Net At Rookie Camp

Thursday, 09.06.2007 / 9:00 PM / News
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Battle In Net At Rookie Camp
By Matthew F. Sacco

On the first day of Florida Panthers rookie camp, in the bowels of the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium – a place …. – Panthers goalie coach Pierre Groulx is pacing between locker rooms, trying to arrange a little extra ice time for his talented pair of young netminders – David Shantz and Tyler Plante.

With franchise goalie Tomas Vokoun locked up for the next four years, Panthers fans aren’t likely to pay any mind to the so-called future of Florida goaltending. But if you ask Groulx, or anyone else on the Panthers staff for that matter, the franchise’s net-protecting duties are in good hands with Shantz and Plante.

“That’s the story of the tournament,” Groulx says as he ducks in to the coach’s locker room. “The Florida Panthers goaltending.”

If only he knows how right he is. True, the Cats will be looking for some stand out performances from their backstops once they open the four-team rookie tournament against Ottawa at 2 p.m. Friday. But the bigger story may be the battle for the third spot on the Panthers goaltending depth chart – behind Vokoun and backup Craig Anderson – which will be decided this weekend, and during the Panthers training camp starting on Sept. 13 in Vail, Colo.

“I think as a goalie, you always want to play with a guy that’s going to push you,” Shantz says of the competition. “You want somebody there who is going to bring out the best in you.”

That’s good news for the Cats rookies, who have had little success in this annual tournament since Shantz’s debut four years ago.

“We really haven’t been on a winning team in one of these things,” says Plante, who will start game one of the tourney tomorrow, and alternate with Shantz throughout the weekend. “No question, we’re here to win this thing.”

Shantz and Plante – who have become friends since their first camp together last season, and are known to text message eachother during the season – share a lot of common traits, not the least of which is an intense competitiveness.

“They’re both very intense,” Groulx says. “They both really want to win.”

And the similarities don’t stop there. They’re both butterfly style goalies, nauseatingly polite, and have handshakes that could crack walnuts. One difference, Groulx says, is that Plante is more vocal, and doesn’t hide his emotions. While Shantz, who is somewhat of a leader in the rookie locker room, is more introverted.

No matter where they wear their emotions, both are assured to be wearing professional uniforms this season. Shantz, who was spectacular early in the year with the Cats ECHL affiliate Florida Everblades, got a raw deal when his starting spot was hijacked by Hurricanes prospect Craig Kowalski after Shantz went out with a knee injury.

Plante, who signed his first contract with the team in May, will get his first taste of pro action this fall.  The next few weeks will decided who is with the Cats’ AHL in Rochester, and who is in Naples with the Everblades. It will also decided who the first goalie call up to the NHL will be, should anything happen to Vokoun or Anderson.

“They both have the potential to be very, very good goalies,” Groulx says. “They just have to keep working hard and stay focused.”

Talk to Plante or Shantz, and that seems like the plan.

“We’re in a great situation,” Shantz says. “We have a great opportunity here, we just have to focus on our games and keep moving forward.”

Plante echoes that statement.

“Obviously there’s two great goalies in front of us,” he says. “But that just makes us work harder. That’s what motivates us. That’s where we want to be. It’s a good goal to set.”

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