One of my favorite things to do when the hockey season hasn’t started (and there’s zero news) is watch old Panthers games. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited with the development camp going on, but I need more! Hopefully we’ll get some good coverage of the upcoming rookie tournament…
When watching old games I typically stick between the years of 1993 - 2016. I never rewatch games from the past for years for whatever reason. Thanks to the power of YouTube you can watch a lot of full games and/or condensed versions from whenever you want. It’s great to fill the ol’ nostalgia bucket and helps remind you of some of the great players that have passed through the Panthers ranks over the years.
Lately I have been crushing the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. I loved everything about those years - the guys, the sweaters, etc. - and when you go back and watch games from that period you remember that the Panthers were really on the rise.
In his first year as head coach, Gerard Gallant led the 2014-15 Panthers to a 38-29-15 record. This was a 9 win and 25 point improvement over the previous season. In 2015-16, Gallant had the Cats at 24-12-4 by the All-Star break - where he earned the Atlantic Division head coach honors. Florida roared through the remained of the season, winning the Atlantic Division - their second division title in franchise history. They finished the season with a 47-26-9 (103 points) record. Though they were bounced by the wild card Islanders in six games of the opening round of playoffs, it was obvious that the Panthers were trending in the right direction and certainly on the rise. They were building and getting stronger each season under Gallant and with Tallon seemingly brining in the right guys (sorry, fellas, but he did do some good during his time as GM).
Then Tom Rowe stepped in and fired Gallant the next season, new ownership did a marketing/branding overhaul, the team stalled for a couple years, blah, blah, blah…we all know the story.
But the point of this blog is to say that going back and watching games from this era really shows you the benefits of solid coaching with a recipe of youth and veterans. We’re very much seeing that now.
The Cats you see on the ice from ‘14-‘16 were playing an uptempo game and had a blend of speed/skill and some physicality with everything anchored by Luongo.
A perfect team? The best in Panthers’ history?
No. Of course not. But it was obvious they respected and bought into Gallant’s vision and system for an exciting brand of hockey that was trending in the right direction.
It’s fun to see Barky, Huby and Ekblad in their early stages - especially Ekblad, who was a rookie in 2014 and was incredibly poised and confident for an 18-year old. It’s great seeing him get past the concussions and back to that rookie form this past season (minus the devastating leg injury of course).
While it was obvious those three represented the Panthers future, what you forget is the cast around them. Let some of these names flood your memory banks. I jotted down some notes next to them based on my observations while rewatching:
Sean Bergenheim - hustler that got involved in all areas of the ice and crashed the net
Nick Bjugstad - solid rookie with size and skill
Dave Bolland - decimated by injury but brought Cup pedigree
Brad Boyes - in the mix on majority of shifts
Tomas Fleischmann - depth forward
Jimmy Hayes - worked around the net well and probably played his best hockey in Florida
Jaromir Jager - legend
Jussi Jokinen - journeyman with some setup skills
Tomas Kopecky - reliable winger with cup pedigree
Derek MacKenzie - good positioning and surprisingly fast and gritty
Brandon Pirri- shot man
Shawn Thornton - gritty
Vincent Trocheck - pre-injuries and complacency, he was young and hungry
Scottie Upshall - motor
Rocco Grimaldi - small/quick and eager up-and-comer
Quinton Howden - something to prove
Brian Campbell - veteran presence, smooth skater w/ability to control game from the backend
Erik Gudbranson - not a ton of skill, but heart and big body to toss around
Dmitry Kulikov - always like him in a Cats sweater
Willie Mitchell - leadership, simple game and physicality
Dylan Olsen - young guy with a lot of promise (always wish it worked out for him here)
Alexander Petrovic - nice frame, mobile with good defensive instincts
There’s obviously more guys to name but these are some of the ones I always liked and who stuck out the most to me.
Enjoy this condensed game from that period. It’s an offensive explosion against the Ducks. The full-game is out there, but I thought you might like the highlights instead…it should get you pumped for the upcoming season!