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Southeast Division Champion Panthers Ready To Build Off Last Season's Success

Wednesday, 01.09.2013 / 6:02 PM / News
Associated Press
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Southeast Division Champion Panthers Ready To Build Off Last Season\'s Success

LIGHTHOUSE POINT, Fla. - Florida coach Kevin Dineen ran a practice during the NHL lockout at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where his daughter plays hockey.

Hannah Dineen's team had a game on Wednesday.

Her father was 1,500 miles away — and is beyond eager for the chance to coach his real team again.

There might not be many teams with more reason for optimism going into this delayed and shortened NHL season than the Panthers, who ended a 12-year playoff drought last spring by winning the Southeast Division and bring back virtually every key part of the team that took eventual Stanley Cup finalist New Jersey to overtime in Game 7 of their first-round series.

"That's part of our identity now," Dineen said. "We were a team that wasn't looked upon as a top-notch team in the league and I think winning our division is something to be proud of and something to build off. We were all looking forward to getting started in September, and even though it's January we're all still looking forward to legitimizing this franchise as a team that you have to play extremely hard against every night to get points."

The NHL's owners and players struck a tentative deal early this week to end the lockout. Owners unanimously ratified the labour deal on Wednesday, and players are expected to vote on Friday and Saturday. If they approve the terms, training camps would likely begin Sunday — with the first games to be played on Jan. 19.

A frenetic 48-game schedule would await, with some Panthers players talking Wednesday about the notion of playing five games in the season's first eight days.

"You guys know how important the start of the season is in an 82-game schedule and that's just going to magnify in a shortened season," Panthers forward Stephen Weiss said. "All the games will be meaningful right off the bat."

The Panthers packed up their temporary locker room at a public rink on Wednesday morning, set to make the short move back to their usual training facility for more workouts starting on Thursday. Teams were still collecting information on Wednesday about when full interaction with players — much was forbidden during the lockout — can resume as normal.

Like most teams, the Panthers have had a core of players working out together for months, wearing practice jerseys with the NHL Players Association logo. In many cases, they arranged the workouts on their own, even doing their own laundry. For example, when Panthers forward Kris Versteeg emerged from the locker room Wednesday, he asked defenceman Ed Jovanovski if he needed him to wash the towel he absent-mindedly left behind.

"Lockout problems," Versteeg said.

Like Dineen, Versteeg did some coaching during the lockout — he was an assistant at the University of Lethbridge, in his hometown in the Canadian province of Alberta.

He saw the game a different way during his coaching stint, which he thinks could help him as a player now.

"It was fun," Versteeg said. "You definitely have to take a different look into how you see the game and how you think about the game, how players react to the way you talk. So it was definitely neat. It's something I might pursue some day."

Fortunately, that may not be anytime soon.

Versteeg was a bit outspoken at times about the lockout, but on Wednesday insisted that he's just thrilled the game is back.

"You run on emotions at times and you're sorry for the way you say the things," Versteeg said. "But in the end, all you want to do is play hockey and get back on the ice."

UPCOMING EVENTS

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - BOS 82 54 19 9 261 177 117
2 y - PIT 82 51 24 7 249 207 109
3 x - TBL 82 46 27 9 240 215 101
4 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
5 x - NYR 82 45 31 6 218 193 96
6 x - PHI 82 42 30 10 236 235 94
7 x - CBJ 82 43 32 7 231 216 93
8 x - DET 82 39 28 15 222 230 93
9 WSH 82 38 30 14 235 240 90
10 NJD 82 35 29 18 197 208 88
11 OTT 82 37 31 14 236 265 88
12 TOR 82 38 36 8 231 256 84
13 CAR 82 36 35 11 207 230 83
14 NYI 82 34 37 11 225 267 79
15 FLA 82 29 45 8 196 268 66
16 BUF 82 21 51 10 157 248 52

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
N. Bjugstad 76 16 22 -14 38
S. Upshall 76 15 22 1 37
B. Campbell 82 7 30 -6 37
B. Boyes 78 21 15 -6 36
S. Bergenheim 62 16 13 -16 29
J. Huberdeau 69 9 19 -5 28
T. Fleischmann 80 8 20 -18 28
T. Gilbert 73 3 25 -5 28
B. Pirri 49 13 12 6 25
A. Barkov 54 8 16 -3 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 25 23 7 .919 2.40
S. Clemmensen 6 7 1 .896 3.09
 
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