Panthers 2011 Development Camp: more than just an excuse for free a/c
Several observations from the final day of Florida's 2011 Development Camp in Coral Springs after the jump...
- Another solid turnout, as the only open parking spots were few, mostly - as expected - along the last row. Thank the jack-knifed semi just south of the Lake Worth Road / Turnpike entrance for my fashionably late, and sweaty, arrival.
- Realized I had not personally seen Kevin Dineen on a sheet of ice under the same roof as I since April 13, 1997; an eye-glazing moment for any longtime Whalers fan. Right up until my glasses cleared and Dineen appeared a dead-ringer for Chuck Weber. Amazing what a little sun will do.
- Didn't see a ton of action from the ice, as a number of fascinating - and very welcome - bull sessions cropped up throughout the morning with a variety of good friends, new and old. In a decade of lackluster and often uninspired hockey in South Florida, it's the relationships that have kept so many us of plowing forward in a sea of dread. Now that the skies are beginning to clear, so too are the personal associations, evolving into a breathtaking level of region-wide optimism - with a side order of cautious yet appropriate realism - not witnessed in these parts since the One-Man Pavel Bure era. And we've now got far more than One Man (though that guy might still be welcomed to lace the skates in Sunrise once more).
- Dale Tallon spent most of the morning holed up in the glass-enclosed Bat Cave (Rat Cave?), shadowed by Scott Luce.
- Back to turnout: this was a prospect development camp, not training camp. Held on weekdays. So many locals made plans to attend, and actually followed through, that to call this anything but a smashing success - to say nothing for the enthusiasm of the prospects themselves - would be an outright non-truth. No, it wasn't the same couple of hundred each day, either, as some out-of-market media outlets might have you believe. This was an event with drawing power, and the faithful came up big.
- Spent a lot of time with the father of one of Florida's prospects; if his son's excitement and sheer passion for what is taking place within the organization is emblematic of his fellow recruits - and word on the street is a resounding "yes" - the Panthers are in fantastic shape for the near- and long-term future. It was quite frankly difficult not getting caught up in the emotion, even for this grizzled fan.
- Does (injured) goaltender Jacob Markstrom ever not smile?
- News of the Erik Gudbranson signing - released just after the players had exited the ice - sent six of us directly to Twitter for confirmation, even though the announcement had been made a mere 50 yards or so away from where we stood at that very moment. A bizarre sign of the times.
- With the Gudbranson business thankfully out of the way - and the final "major" bit of off-season news now off the table, leaving the building was bittersweet: we had witnessed an insanely talented and charismatic group of 35 "kids", all jockeying for a piece of the ride, and you could't help but want more. Sadly, "more" won't arrive until September.