SUNRISE, Fla. – During a normal NHL season, it’s customary for media members to be in and around the Florida Panthers locker room on practice and game days.
Talking to the players and observing their surroundings generally provides us some insight into the world that the team is living in.
This season, however, has been anything but normal.
No quick chats with Frank Vatrano about the celebration from his latest clutch goal. No scotch discussions at Keith Yandle’s locker. No standing outside the room after a big win and hearing the players whooping and hollering to the team’s victory anthem.
Finding out information on things like that have been challenging this season, but finally, I have some answers for you.
One of the questions that I’ve been asked the most this year is regarding the Panthers postgame victory jam.
Do they have one? Is it a secret? What is it?
The answer is yes, they do have one, and no, it is not a secret.
At least not anymore.
After every Panthers win this season, and there have been quite a few, the players are basking in their postgame glory by listening to... Dreams by Fleetwood Mac.
No, I’m not kidding.
And if you’re not picturing Sasha Barkov or Radko Gudas on a skateboard in a gray hoodie downing cranberry juice right now…all I can say is you’re missing out.
The idea of 20 hockey players, all pumped up from a big win, plowing into the locker room and getting all jacked up while singing, “Now here you go again, you say you want your freedom,” is just imagination overload.
Another question regarding postgame celebrations that I’ve gotten quite a bit is whether the team has a ‘player of the game’ item that gets passed from the last honoree to the next one following every win.
Past items in recent years have included a rugby ball, a shovel and an Infiniti Gauntlet.
This year, during the regular season, there has been no such item.
That may be due to extra COVID-19 precautions and how spread out the locker room has been, with multiple rooms in use at the BB&T Center due to social distancing and the sheer size of Florida’s roster at times (between the active roster and taxi squad, the Panthers are currently carrying 36 players, not including Aaron Ekblad. More on him in a minute).
With the postseason on the horizon, though, it sounds like the Cats could be adding something new to their postgame repertoire.
“Once the playoffs come around, we might be doing something a little different,” Panthers forward Noel Acciari revealed. “To get everyone a little excited, and just to shake things up from the regular season.”
So, something is coming, and it’ll be “a little different.”
That was all Acciari would reveal.
Which is fine. It’s great that the team is going to have something else to help bring them even closer together during the most important time of the season.
Perhaps if the Panthers have some playoff success in the coming weeks and (hopefully) months, we’ll be able to uncover more about the new postseason postgame ritual.
EKBLAD ON TRACK
Following Friday’s practice, I asked Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville if he could provide an update on the status of injured defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
Ekblad suffered a broken bone in his left leg during a game in Dallas on March 28 and the team set a timetable of 12 weeks for him to potentially return.
Sunday will be exactly six weeks since the injury.
“We expect him, in about a week, it’ll be a test or two done to get him to a different phase (of his rehabilitation), and then we’ll have a better idea of knowing exactly that number,” Quenneville said of a target for Ekblad to return. “Right now, we think we’re on course for what we set out to do, where the timeline is.”
Prior to his injury, Ekblad was having a season worthy of Norris Trophy consideration.
Through 35 games, the 25-year-old racked up 11 goals and 22 points. He had been at or near the top of the league’s list of defensive goal scorers all season while playing big minutes for Florida and often being matched up against the oppositions’ best forwards.
A locker room leader and alternate captain, Ekblad has had to sit on the sidelines and watch the best Panthers team that he’s been a part of continue marching toward the playoffs.
Needless to say, he’s anxious to get back on the ice and help his team achieve its greatest goals.
“It’s not easy for him right now,” Quenneville said. “He’s chomping at the bit, looking for a little more clearance.”