The last time Erik Gudbranson was in a sweater with a leaping cat on the front, he was told he made the team, and he’d be a Florida Panther to start the season. A well-documented contract dispute (that he called “just hockey” after todays meant Gudbranson would spend the 2010-11 season back in the OHL with the Kingston Frontenacs instead of inSunrise. Tuesday, he, along with 38 other rookies, stepped onto the ice of Saveology Iceplex in a Panther sweater for the first time since last October as the team opened its Rookie Development Camp.
Today was the first chance many of the South Florida media had to ask Gudbranson’s feelings about going back to juniors when he thought he was a Cat. Asked about the situation, he said,
“I say this with all due respect, but, you know, I obviously wanted to be here at the start of the year. It was a little frustrating, but I think I made the best of it. I turned it into positive energy and looked at from the standpoint that I can only get better.”
Tuesday, he showed up looking very much the part of an NHL defenseman, having added about 20 pounds of muscle in the past year (he says he’s presently at 215). When asked if he was bored with the OHL, after some praise for the league, he said “Physically? yes.” According to management and coach Kevin Dineen, who makes the club is ‘up to them’, but my impression is that with his physical preparation, coupled with his mindset, he plans on being a Panther when the season opens October 8th in Long Island.
And the transformation the team has undergone hasn’t escaped his attention, especially Ed Jovanovski. He called the veteran defenseman,
“by far one of my favorite defensemen growing up. He’s someone you can model your game after and definitely look up to.”
And if you’re one of the people who believe the rumor that the ongoing contract situation has caused a rift between himself and the club, he said
“I have nothing but respect for this organization and I’m extremely proud to be a Florida Panther. It’s going to stay like that forever.”
NOTES FROM DAY 1
Tuesday’s practice was divided into two parts. The forwards took to the ice at 9am and practiced until 10. After the zamboni did its thing, the defensemen came out and practice until 11.
Lots of instruction and drills. Brian Skrudland was very active in both sessions, including faceoff work with the forwards.
While the guys you’d expect to catch your eyes did (Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad, Quinton Howden, Garrett Wilson), Josh Birkholz put more than a few goals in during drills. While the drill was designed to have guys crash the net for rebounds, on more than one occasion, Birkholz made sure there wasn’t any change to put back in,
Camp resumes Thursday at Saveology Iceplex at 9am and concludes Friday.
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