There was a gathering on the corner of the ice Thursday morning after practice. Florida Panther head coach Kevin Dineen had some news to deliver, and the news wasn’t just good, it was great! Dineen called his troops together to announce that rookie defenceman Erik Gudbranson (known as Big G here) had officially made the team and would not be headed back to his junior club in Kingston. In the stands the big defenceman’s father Wayne was teary eyed and filled with joy. A big moment for a player that’s going to be a big part of this franchise for years to come.
As the Panthers were preparing for game nine of the young season, there was speculation that Gudbranson was going to be kept, but the “official” word from the team hadn’t been announced. With everything leaning on probability, the organEYEzation made their decision before the team was to play before Erik’s family and friends in Ottawa. A very classy thing to do by the Florida Panthers, by a very classy coach, for a very classy player and his family. The young defenceman had about 25 tickets gathered for friends and family to attend the game. Kevin Dineen had this to say about delivering the message in front of Erik and his teammates (source: Harvey Fialkov’s Sun-Sentinel blog):
“I was wondering how I was going to deliver it. A lot of times in this business you’re delivering bad news, so it’s nice to let someone know that’s a heck of an occasion, not only for him but for his family, his minor-league coaches, a lot of people can really enjoy that,’’ Dineen said after morning skate. “Playing in your hometown there’s enough stuff going on already so I picked the right call to let him know and let him know in front of his teammates.’’
Gudbranson, who I have said many times before happens to be mature way beyond his years was especially happy that his father was able to see the announcement in person at the morning skate. Here’s a video of the team celebrating the announcement. Erik later spoke about finding out about his future (source: Harvey Fialkov’s Sun-Sentinel Blog):
“It’s exciting and I’m really pumped,’’ said Gudbranson, who doled out about 25 tickets for tonight’s game. “It was nice my dad was in the crowd for morning skate, so he got to see it. As much as it’s a dream for me I’m pretty sure it’s twice as exciting to see his kid do that and I give [my family] all the credit in the world.’’
With the announcement out of the way, the big defenceman who many feel will be the team’s captain some day can concentrate on playing hockey and not worrying about his future so much. Yes there is a slight chance that he could be returned to juniors, but the likelihood of that happening is virtually nill. There’s nothing to gain for Gudbranson by going back and playing with players that are not only smaller, but also younger. He brings such a physical element that has been sorely missing on this Florida Panthers team, and photos like this one below are the kind of things that I’m looking forward to:
As someone who is 19 years old, Erik still has some learning to do, and the position of defence, especially at the NHL level requires the proper tutelage. Erik is extremely fortunate to be working with Ed Jovanovski as his defensive partner, who was in the exact same situation when he broke into the league. If you think that signing Jovanovski as a free agent this past summer so he could work with Gudbranson wasn’t in the cards, then you’re clearly not paying attention in class. The skill that Erik has just needs to be sharpened, but the hockey sense and composure he has shown you can’t teach. Those are attributes that you have or you don’t, and for a 19 year old player not to panic, and not to appear frazzled in tight situations is a relief to see. His willingness to take on Steve Downie showed a lot of swagger, and his maturity shone through by not having a rematch of last year’s tilt with Travis Moen Monday night.
Don’t expect perfection from the 19 year old, as he still has much to learn. While I believe that as the season progresses, so will his ice time, but credit coach Kevin Dineen for controlling that. A young player like Erik should be brought along properly, and Dineen’s decision to limit/or control his ice time right now is the best thing he can do. By putting him in situations where he can be successful will help to build his confidence, and help him make better decisions.
This is very exciting news Panther fans, and the future of this team is looking very bright. Erik is just one piece of our “Blueprint” to success.
Congratulations to Erik and to his family.
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