Cat Bites: Panthers welcome chance to cool off during break

Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau is using the Olympics break to visit friends up north.

Robert Mayer

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers are eager for a chance to cool off.

After the team wraps up Friday night’s contest against the Carolina Hurricanes, the NHL will begin an 11-day break while some of its players participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Most NHLers are not headed to Sochi, Russia and would probably welcome the opportunity to escape to a warmer climate. The majority of Florida’s players, however, are headed north to reconnect with friends and family.

Scott Clemmensen said he will travel to upstate New York, giving his Florida-raised kids the opportunity to play in the snow, which is still an "exciting anomaly for them."

But the Panthers goaltender will also be faced with a task tougher than stopping a 100-mph snapshot.

"My youngest daughter thinks we’re going to be building a snow jaguar," Clemmensen said. "I’ve never done that before, so we’ll see how that goes."

The Mottaus are shipping back to their hometown of Boston, while the Jovanovskis will head to Charlotte.

Some of the team’s younger players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad had to fend off requests to stay in Florida so their families could escape winter. Both wanted to fly north to see friends.

"I am pretty excited about it," Huberdeau said. "I’ll go see the family, so it will be fun. It will reset [my] mind."

Bjugstad, who said he’s still getting used to the grind of a full NHL season, plans to take off a few days from skating. He also hopes to train with some of his former teammates at the University of Minnesota.

"I’m going to the tundra up there," Bjugstad said. "I’ll probably try to skate a little with the Gophers. I’ll see [Gophers teammate and Panthers prospect] Kyle Rau and see how he’s doing."

Defenseman Mike Weaver, puzzled by his teammates desire to seek cold, is taking his family to the Turks and Caicos Islands.

What a win

"I wouldn’t say Florida is too bad, but I am going from warm to warmer," Weaver said.

Panthers coach Peter Horachek will stick in Fort Lauderdale and try to get settled.

Aside from watching the Olympics and preparing for an intense stretch run that sees Florida play just about every other day until the season’s end, Horachek will finally get his office set up.

"I’ve got about six boxes of offices in the back of my truck," Horachek said. "There are pictures in a box rattling around. Every time I take a turn they rattle up against something and I go, ‘They’re scratching.’ My wife threatens me that she’s going to come in and decorate."

Regardless of where coaches or players end up, though, they are all thankful for an extended break. It has been a difficult season for Florida, which is 13 points out of a playoff spot.

Clemmensen points out that with the time off, it is very possible for a team’s momentum to shift.

"There are teams that are probably playing some of their best hockey right now that the break isn’t coming at such a great time," Clemmensen said. "Being what it is, I think everyone is looking forward to having some time off.

"Everyone can agree that the NHL season — being as it is — where you’re playing every other day since mid-September, that’s a grueling schedule. We’re always, at this time of year, looking toward the Olympic break or All-Star Break, whatever it is. To get two or three days off is big."


Huberdeau scratched another NHL first off his list Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs: A fight.

"Probably the last one, too," Huberdeau said.

Early in the second period, the winger battled for a puck along the boards with Toronto’s Jake Gardiner. Huberdeau kept checking the defenseman along the boards and when Gardiner turned around, the gloves went flying.

The bout earned Huberdeau praise from his teammates, particularly enforcer Krys Barch, who told the winger he did well.

"I think (Barch) is scared of me now," Huberdeau joked. "They don’t expect me to fight. I’m probably the smallest guy on this team. But it just happened. I’m not scared."

Fights are extremely rare for Huberdeau, who said he last got into one during his junior career. Nothing about it had a positive outcome. In a tussle against Halifax’s MacKenzie Weegar on Dec. 9, 2012, Huberdeau also knocked down linesman Jay Doiron. That led to a four-game suspension.

"The referee fell and they said I pushed him," Huberdeau said. "And I got beat up after, so I don’t want to remember that fight."

It has been a difficult year for the reigning Calder Trophy winner, who has struggled to get on the scoresheet at times. The fight seemed to release a great deal of Huberdeau’s frustration.

"You get more intense when you do that," he said. "It wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to fight this game.’ I don’t really like fighting, but you’ve got to fight through it. It felt good to do that. And it helped the team, too.

"I want to be consistent and play well. I think I am having more fun. You’ve just got to smile to be on the ice."

Horachek has noticed the sophomore’s improved play.

"I asked him to start working harder and putting it on the line," Horachek said. "Don’t worry about the goals and assists, just worry about the effort level. It was one of the hardest (working) games for him."

But even after Huberdeau finished with one of his better all-around efforts and netted an assist in Florida’s 4-1 win, he still had to answer to his mother about getting into a brawl.

"She was like, ‘What was it about? Why were you fighting?’" Huberdeau said. "She doesn’t really mind. Maybe if I were to get beat up."


Panthers management and scouts will start preparing for the trade deadline during the final days of the Olympic break.

While the San Antonio Rampage, Florida’s AHL affiliate, is in Ontario to face the Toronto Marlies and Hamilton Bulldogs, the team will hold meetings to review a season’s worth of scouting reports.

Assistant GM Mike Santos says he hopes the Panthers will be active during the trade deadline to improve the team.

Owner Vincent Viola recently stated he is committed to making the Panthers a cap team, and the deadline will be the first step in doing so.

If the Panthers were to acquire a star player, it would likely be through a trade. According to Santos, Florida is more likely to pick up "supplementary players" through free agency.

The NHL trade deadline is at 3 p.m. on March 5.


The Cats will have several dates to circle over the next few weeks.

Florida wraps up its pre-Olympic schedule Friday in Carolina against the Hurricanes.

After an extended break, players will return to their teams on Wednesday, Feb. 19. The Panthers will resume practice either Feb. 20 or 21.

While the league resumes play on Feb. 25, Florida will get an extra two days of rest before hosting the Washington Capitals on Feb. 27.

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