While October is taking its own sweet time getting here, I find myself scanning the Florida Panthers schedule daily, sometimes more. This type of obsessive behavior is nothing new for me. When I was a kid, I’d claim the Sears Wishbook (Holiday time catalog, LOADED with toys), start making lists of how my parents could easily purchase everything I circled and then go look it over and over and over until Christmas time. Right now, the Panthers schedule is my Sears Wishbook, and October 8th is Christmas morning (my folks still remind me of the absolute nightmare I was when it came to the holidays). While I always looked forward to the start of hockey season, this off-season has made the season opener against the New York Islanders the most-anticipated since the lockout.
Hopefully, with the changes the team has made, home games will be filled with more people rooting for the good guys rather than the visiting opposition. And while, I know games against the Habs, Rangers, Bruins, Penguins and others will still draw enemy fans, maybe the ratio won’t be so bad as it has been in years past. And while the NBA lockout will help, winning and getting the attention of the South Florida sports fan will work wonders in filling the seats with Panther fans.
So, as I look down my wish list, here are the games I can’t wait to watch in person (in date order):
- October 15th vs Tampa: Ah, Opening Night! While we’ll have two chances to see the new guys in action in the regular season before this game, this is our first chance to see them in the new home reds in a game that counts. And what better way to measure the new team than against your in-state, in-division rival? Inexplicably, the Cats OWNED the Ligntning last season, going 4-1-1, including a 6-0 drubbing in last season’s home opener. Also a big moment for coach Kevin Dineen as he coaches his first NHL regular season game.
- November 15 vs Philadelphia: Erik Gudbranson, meet Chris Pronger. I’d be perfectly happy if Big G developed into the player Pronger was/is, without the post-game, puck-stealing shenanigans. Besides, it’s always a spirited affair when the Flyers come to town. This will also be the first chance Panthers fans get to have a chuckle or two at Jaromir Jagr.
- November 21 vs New Jersey: Former Panthers bench boss Pete DeBoer makes his first visit to the Bank Atlantic Center in the visitor’s dressing room. He brings in a talented roster into a game that both teams will desperately want to win for their coach. As we know from three seasons of DeBoer coached hockey, it won’t necessarily be an up and down affair, but it should be entertaining from a physical standpoint. I’ll predict now that the word ‘gritty’ will appear in our recap of this game.
- December 31 vs Monreal: The annual New Year’s Eve tilt. It’s the game Jonathan Huberdeau talked about coming down with his family to see on winter vacation. This game is generally not a favorite of Panthers fans because of the high number of Habs fans who fill the building. I look at it this way: want the Cats fans to outnumber the Habs fans? Then buy up the tickets! Besides, it’s another chance to see Gudbranson have a go at Travis Moen (the first chance is October 10/24 at the Bell Centre). If you need a refresher as to why a guy who hasn’t played an NHL regular season game has a score to settle, check this out from last pre-season.
- February 9 vs Los Angeles: No matter what sweater he wears, I’ll hate Mike Richards. And not just for the hit on David Booth in 2009, although that’s a HUGE part of it. And it irks me that he was traded to a team from the West that I root for, but he will help the Kings as long as he doesn’t spend his nights on the Sunset Strip drinking with Lemmy from Motorhead. If Drew Doughty can return to the form of his 2009-2010 season, this team could be the West’s representative in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Sixty-Seven days til Panther hockey is back! What games are you looking forward to this season? Let’s hear you!
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Tags: Chris Progner Drew Doughty Erik Gudbranson Florida Panthers Jaromir Jagr Kevin Dineen Los Angeles Kings Mike Richards Montreal Canadiens New Jersey Devils Pete Deboer Philadelphia Flyers Tampa Bay Lightning Travis Moen