In this third NHL game (that counted) Erik Gudbranson made you stand up and take notice. For a Florida Panthers team that in recent years has lacked not only a physical presence, but also someone to stand up and defend teammates, rookie Erik Gudbranson (Big G) seems to be prepared to take on that role. Many people weren’t overly impressed with the big and rugged defenceman’s play, not only in the pre season, but also during his first two regular season games. He didn’t do anything flashy, and while he didn’t do anything necessarily wrong (although part of his Pittsburgh game was erratic), Erik had some wondering if he would survive the nine game test in his rookie campaign. That thinking was laid to rest as Erik showed the home crowd Saturday night that he means business. And the key word is mean!
Gudbranson was assessed 19 minutes in penalties in Saturday night’s game (putting him on pace for 519 for the year) and while you certainly don’t want one of your six defencemen spending that much time in the penalty box, head coach Kevin Dineen a former tough customer himself, spoke here about the shot in the arm that Gudbranson gave the Panthers, and the team’s overall response to it (video courtesy of @rinkside).
I like how Dineen welcomes the challenge and points to the rest of the team specifically the forwards and their need to be responsible, as one of their “guys” sticks up for them. Gudbranson had two big moments Saturday night that stood out and made you realize he’s ready for this stage. When former Panther Dominic Moore ended up bumping into goaltender Jose Theodore, Big G took exception to the contact of his netminder, grabbed Moore by the
throat neck collar with one hand and threw him to the ice like a bag of feathers. Fortunately for Big G and the Panthers, Moore received a penalty for goaltender interference , and the tone for the night had been set. No one is running us in our building. You could feel the energy spread to the other Panthers as Shawn Matthias and Scottie Upshall among others took a more physical role as the game progressed.
The second moment was his fight against Tampa tough guy Steve Downie. As Tampa’s resident pugilist, Downie is not known to back down from anyone, and more often than not starts most altercations that he’s involved in. Even if he’s a good four inches shorter than
his object of affection target. This one was no different and his target was Panther defenceman Ed Jovanovski. Gudbranson was easily the winner in his first NHL fight with Downie, and by the looks of the video below, clearly told Downie, Tampa Bay, and anyone in the NHL who was watching that there’s a new sheriff in town. You’ll see at the end of the fight that Big G in a very Rocky sort of way, tossed his elbow pads to the side once the officials separated the two. Gudbranson talked about the altercation after the game (courtesy of @rinkside).
One of the things that I had mentioned the other day was that we needed to see more grit from these Panthers, and it appears that the “cuteness” that Kevin Dineen worked on removing during practice this week was exchanged for sandpaper. As you know, I’m one of the biggest supporter’s of Erik, and am looking to him as being one of the important pieces of our future. In talking with his parents Saturday night, you can see that he was raised right, and you can also see where the maturity in him, even at 19 years old comes from. In the few games that we’ve seen one thing is very clear. Erik is at his best when he’s got his mean streak on. To have taken on a tough guy last preseason in Travis Moen from Montreal, who’s no slouch either when it comes to fighting, and then to answer and ring the bell of Downie, Gudbranson is ultimately saying, this is my game. This is where I can be at my best. The Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov has Erik on tape as well after the game for a few comments, and the fight video is attached as well.
As a young player who still has a great deal of developing to do, if Gudbranson can channel his energy and his tenacious play, and combine it with the other fluid skills that he has, we’re going to have the making of one hell of a player. In that same breathe let me also say that I don’t want Big G fighting every or even most nights. His toughness is an attribute we want and need to see, however we also drafted him because of his skating ability, crisp passes, booming slap shot, and his hockey intelligence. The tools and character are in place. But one this is for sure “nasty never looked so good”.
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