SUNRISE — New Florida Panthers goalie Anthony Stolarz has been around in his life chasing the NHL dream.
After four seasons with the Anaheim Ducks, Stolarz says he is happy to be back on the east coast.
Not that life on the west coast was tough or anything — there’s nothing wrong with making a living playing hockey in Southern California — but Stolarz grew up in New Jersey and spent his first professional seasons with the Flyers’ organization.
Joining the Panthers is not a homecoming by any means.
But when friends and family want to visit, at least it is a much shorter flight.
“I like it here so far,” Stolarz told FHN on Saturday morning. “Obviously being in Southern California the past four years, I do like the warm weather. This area is very nice, lots of great restaurants and being close to the beach is a plus.
“When it comes to hockey, the facilities are great and the team has been very welcoming to me. I am excited to be a part of it.”
Stolarz comes to the Panthers after spending the past few seasons backing up Josh Gibson in Anaheim.
After his season was cut short with a knee injury, Stolarz became a free agent and Florida was one of the first teams to call.
“My agent called on July 1 and said Florida was very interested,” Stolarz said. “They did not guarantee anything, but they told me I would have the opportunity to come in and try and win a job. As a competitor, that’s all you can ask for. Looking at the success they had last year, that was a part of it.
“I wanted to join a winning team with a good culture. This was all I could ask for. The rest was up to me in trying to go out there and win a job.”
Although Florida had its season saved by No. 3 goalie Alex Lyon and had Spencer Knight coming back, the team was in the market for a goaltender who had NHL experience and knew what it took to be a successful backup.
Stolarz said the Panthers ended up signing a one-year deal worth $1.1 million.
When the season opens on Thursday against the host Minnesota Wild, Sergei Bobrovsky will be the starter but Stolarz says he will be ready whenever the Panthers call.
Back in his days with the Flyers, Stolarz was called up from their AHL team in Lehigh Valley. He took a car service to Philadelphia to back up Michal Neuvirth.
Stolarz got to the arena about five minutes before the game was about to start — only he ended up playing after Neuvirth fell ill and collapsed on the ice. Stolarz made 26 saves in a 3-0 win over the Devils for his first of six NHL shutouts.
“It is definitely something you figure out over the years,’’ said Stolarz, who has played for the Flyers, Oilers and Ducks over the course of his career. “At first, you come up as a kid and want to play every game. At the end of the day, only one guy gets to go. For me, over the years, I have a lot of situations where I was thrown into the fire. I went from being the backup in an AHL game to suddenly playing in an NHL one.
“It is a mentality you have to have, just being ready and prepared. When your name is called, you want to go out there and do your job. It’s not all about putting up zeroes and ones when you’re playing in the second of a back-to-back and the team is tired. Sometimes it’s just making that one save, that momentum-changing save that keeps your team in it.
“It is your job to win games. Obviously the stats are nice. But this is a team sport and goalies take pride in the wins. When you win, the team wins. That is the most important thing.”
The Panthers, of all teams, realize they are probably going to need more than two goalies this season.
Last year, Lyon was recalled to replace Knight and ended up becoming the starter when Bobrovsky fell ill in Ottawa.
With the Panthers on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention, Lyon not only helped Florida get an overtime win in Toronto but he won six consecutive games and went 6-1-1 down the stretch to get his team into the postseason.
Lyon was even Florida’s starter for the first three games of the opening-round series against the Bruins before Bobrovsky got back in and did not give the net back.
The Panthers know they will be counting on all three of their goalies again this season — and Stolarz says he is ready.
“You could see this preseason how hard this team works and how committed everyone is to playing a 200-foot game,” said Stolarz, who played in 47 games with the Ducks over the past two seasons.
“I got my first taste of the Florida-Tampa rivalry and playing against them was special, just seeing how those two teams go at it against each other. I am excited to get the regular season going, go out there and do my job.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT MINNESOTA WILD
- When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
- Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- This season: Florida @ Minnesota, Thursday; Minnesota @ Florida, Jan. 19
- All-time regular season series: Minnesota leads 18-10-2, 1 tie
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday at Winnipeg Jets, 4 p.m.