Monday, April 07, 2014
Closing out the Hockey Season In Florida
As we enter the final week of hockey in the National Hockey League, there are a few playoff spots yet to be determined. Such is not the case for the Florida Panthers, as they saw their hopes slip away some time ago. Rather than languish in agony, the powers-that-be took to the phones and orchestrated a deal that will hopefully bring results next season. Results in the NHL mean playoffs, and that will fall squarely on the shoulders of Roberto Luongo next season.
He landed in Florida, for the second time, in a trade that saw former Belleville Bull Shawn Matthias head to Vancouver. Luongo is a seasoned veteran, but, as a goaltender, he likely has several good seasons ahead of him. He is a dedicated employee, and has never been faulted for lack of effort. You may recall that, at one time, the Canucks insisted that he be named captain of the team, indeed a rarity and an honour for a goaltender. It indicated that he is a leader, and that is something that the Panthers can use at this time.
After a recent 2-1 loss to the Calgary Flames, Luongo faced the media in the Panthers’ dressing room. He stressed the positive side of things, somewhat difficult in the circumstances. He had robbed Mike Cammalleri on a breakaway in the third period, but the Panthers could not beat Flames’ starter Joey MacDonald. “You have to give their goalie credit,” he told me after the game. “A win would have been nice, but he really played well.” He went on to analyze the game in the current perspective. “At this point in the season, it’s about the process.” The process necessitated by failing to make the playoffs.
He was returning after a brief stint on the sidelines with a mild concussion. He was bowled over by the Hurricanes’ Radek Dvorak on March 27th. “I think it was the original contact. My head hit the post on the way down, too, but it wasn’t as hard as the initial hit,” Luongo told the Sun Sentinel.
The Panthers are loaded with young talent, and the potential is there to make them serious contenders next year. As the season comes to a close, young players from San Antonio are given a chance to show their stuff. Quinton Howden, Bobby Butler, Colby Robak, and Vincent Trocheck have played less than 20 games in the NHL, but they are the future of these young Cats. Jimmy Hayes brings size and grit to the lineup, and has developed a ‘Phil Esposito’ touch around the net. Translation? Let the puck hit you in the arse, then bang it into the net!
Jonathan Huberdeau was the rookie of the year last year, and he will be a leader next year. Former Kingston Frontenac Eric Gudbranson will help anchor the Panthers defense. But the Panthers truly need offensive talent, as their three top point-getters have about as many points as Sidney Crosby, combined. As in 35 points each. Ouch!!
The Leafs play the Panthers in Sunrise on Thursday night, a game that could decide the fate of the Blue and White.
On the south west side of the state, the Florida Everblades are in dire straights. They have dropped a couple of close decisions in the past week, and are in danger of landing out of the playoffs for the first time in team history. The recently landed Rob Kwiet, a former Wellington Duke, to shore up the defense. Kwiet has been impressive in his first few games with the ‘Blades. The ‘Blades must win all three of their remaining games, and hope that the Fort Wayne Komets trip and stumble at the finish line to play in the post season. In all likelihood, Nathan Moon, Chris Auger, and their teammates will finish ahead of the Everblades.
Rob Kwiet is a well-travelled soul. The sounds of “I’ve been everywhere, man” must echo, occasionally, inside his head. In the last ten years, he has seen the ice representing fifteen different teams, in five different leagues. He had two brief stints in the American Hockey League, but most of his time has been spent in the ECHL, from coast to coast.