CORAL SPRINGS — It’s been a little over three months since the Florida Panthers were last together on skates. The offseason was a short one – at least in comparison to most of the league – with the Panthers only getting about 100 days off between Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final and the start of training camp.
With the NHL summer wrapped up, the Cats were back on the ice today to kick off what they hope to be a long and fruitful 2023-2024 NHL season.
“Honestly it feels like I was here a couple weeks ago talking after the season so that’s exactly what we want,” said Panthers’ captain Alekasnder Barkov at media day. “We want to have seasons as long as possible and that’s what we work for. We worked hard last year and we deserved to be in the finals. We want to do the same thing this year again.”
While the Stanley Cup Final loss wasn’t long ago, the players’ focus is on the season ahead, not the run of yesteryear.
“I personally hate talking about last year,” Matthew Tkachuk said ahead of training camp. “There were some great memories but it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, so you cannot dwell in the year’s past but you can keep it in your mind.”
“We got to create some new memories this year.”
The 59-man training camp roster composed of many of the guys who were part of Florida’s run to the Stanley Cup Final last year — mixed in with some new faces who got their first taste of Panthers’ hockey today in Coral Springs.
Year two of head coach Paul Maurice’s training camp was as physically demanding as year one. By the end of the respective 90 minute sessions guys were leaning over their sticks as they tried to catch their breath.
Maurice works his guys hard in camp, focusing heavily on battles down low, rushes, puck possession and end of session bag skating.
“It’s a hard camp, last year it was hard and this year seems to be just as hard so we’re prepared for it,” Sam Bennett said following day 1 of camp. “It’s gonna be good for us.”
While Bennett knew what to expect coming into camp, off-season signing Evan Rodrigues was one of the new Panthers who got his first formal on ice experience with the team today.
“I think that we’re going to work, that’s kind of the team’s identity… we’re going to try to skate teams through the ground,” Rodrigues said. “That’s why I signed here, I thought it was a perfect fit for me, it’s fast paced, it’s skilled, it’s hard.”
Going back to last season, Maurice would constantly reflect on how hard the guys worked in training camp — laying down the groundwork that would follow them through their rollercoaster of a season.
The same message was planted into the ground, or ice, today.
“It has to be at least as hard this year as it was last year, we should have increased the capacity to endure,” Maurice said. “I also think there’s a lot of danger in believing that when I come to camp that we’ve got this thing figured out. We have lots of room to improve on the systematic basis.”
As for last season, Maurice was fine talking about it as this new campaign is set to get underway.
“For me it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. Instead of thinking about the highs and lows and the excitement, just ask the question. Why?” Maurice said when asked about the 2022-2023 team. “What is it about this group of guys that made that room the way it was? “
“We have to fight for the culture of hard and that togetherness they have.”
The players haven’t forgotten about what they experienced as a group just a few months ago, but they also recognize it’s a new year, new season and new chance to get back to June.
Florida will continue camp through Sunday, before starting preseason action with a split-squad double header at home against Nashville on Monday.
The Panthers will not be sitting any of their available veterans on Monday, per Maurice.