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Florida Panthers get reinforcements from Charlotte for Thursday game

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Florida Panthers rookie Cole Schwindt, here celebrating a goal with the Charlotte Checkers, is expected to make his NHL debut tonight against the Los Angeles Kings. // Photo courtesy @CheckersHockey

SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers have a large number of players in Covid-19 protocol but it appears their game against the Los Angeles Kings will go on as scheduled.

Florida called up four players from its AHL affiliate in Charlotte but will still appear to be shorthanded.

The Panthers brought up a pair of defensemen (Chase Priskie and Matt Kiersted) as well as forwards Grigori Denisenko and Cole Schwindt.

Schwindt, whose nine goals are tied for the team lead in Charlotte, will be making his NHL debut if the game goes on as scheduled.

The four players are coming off back-to-back wins against the Rochester Americans so this will be their third game in as many nights.

Playing in the NHL, however, should give them a natural shot of energy.

“For those kids coming up, this is a great opportunity to play in the NHL,” Andrew Brunette said following a sparsely-attended morning skate at FLA Live Arena.

“We are going to need them and we are going to rely on them. They are probably going to play a little more than they’re used to because we’re going to need bodies here. If I’m one of those guys, I’m excited because I’m going to get an opportunity. They worked so hard there to get this chance.”

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The Panthers appear to be going into Thursday’s game without a full roster even with the large amount of reinforcements coming down from North Carolina.

If all the players who were missing Thursday morning are not available Thursday night, the Panthers will be down a defenseman and a forward and will thereby dress 16 skaters instead of 18.

Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to start with Jonas Johansson backing up.

Spencer Knight was sent to Charlotte.

Counting Aleksi Heponiemi, who was called up on Tuesday, five of Florida’s 16 skaters on Thursday would have been with the Checkers as of this week.

At least a few of them will probably remain with the Panthers if they travel to Minnesota for its scheduled game Saturday in Minnesota.

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”Every team in the league has had to go through this at some point,’’ Brunette said.

“If you asked us at the beginning of the year, we knew we would be one of them at some point. We have to patch it together the best we can tonight.”

Ryan Lomberg was the first Florida player who was placed into Covid protocol on Tuesday, missing the Panthers 8-2 loss to Ottawa.

On Wednesday, four more players — and a member of the team’s traveling party — were also entered into the protocol.

Thursday morning, the Panthers only had 12 healthy skaters (just three of whom were defensemen) on the ice.

Gus Forsling, who missed the game Tuesday due to what was said to be a non-Covid illness, skated onto the ice but quickly left.

Aaron Ekblad and Frank Vatrano were not there.

Brunette said all three were “unable to skate” in the morning practice and were not simply opting out.

The other players officially in Covid protocol are: Lomberg, Radko Gudas, Brandon Montour, Sam Bennett and Carter Verhaeghe.

Los Angeles also placed defenseman Drew Doughty on the Covid list.

”I was told this morning to be ready to go and we’re trying to prepare our team the best we can,” Brunette said. “That’s all we can control. We can only control what they’re telling us to do.”

The Panthers morning skate was lightly attended and, unlike when a team holds an optional practice, it was not by design.

The coaching staff was not able to run many drills and just kind of worked around the obvious number problem.

The team also changed its policy on in-person media access to holding everything on Zoom. That will likely remain for the time being.

“It was kind of like running my niece or nephew’s minor hockey practice,” Brunette said. “There was only 10 or so guys out there. It was a little strange, kind of like an optional morning. We just tried to get the guys going and have some fun with it regardless of what we have to do. Other teams have to do it, have gotten through it.

“It’s a different challenge, a different feeling so let’s try and enjoy the process here.”

The Panthers had to deal with Covid-related postponements last season although they were due to another team’s concerns.

Florida’s scheduled season-opening series agains the Dallas Stars was postponed as were games against the Carolina Hurricanes early in the 2021 season.

Sam Reinhart was with Buffalo last season when his team had to go through a Covid lockdown and postpone games.

He said it was not an easy thing for a team to go through especially when you are dealing with the health of people you are close to.

”We had a full week of quarantine during the season and then another week of practice to try and get ready,” Reinhart said. “That really condensed things even more. It’s not something any organization wants to go through and we’re not the only ones right now that are battling this right now and going through damage control.

“The league goes on, right? We’re ready to go and have a job to do tonight.”

The NHL has gone on — but not for all teams.

Ottawa has had games postponed and Calgary has shut things down for the time being.

NBA games have been affected as has the NFL, although no games there have been postponed as of yet despite some teams — the Cleveland Browns in particular — having a large number of players in protocol.

Jonathan Huberdeau was on the ice Thursday and is expected to be named to Team Canada for the upcoming Beijing Games — if the NHL ends up going.

Earlier this week, rules on what will happen to players if they test positive while in Beijing were made public and the outbreak of Covid not only in the sports world but around the world may have players like Huberdeau rethinking whether they want to go or not.

A positive Covid test could mean a three-to-five week quarantine in China.

”I think all the players are thinking about that,” Huberdeau said. “You don’t want to be stuck in China. It’s something we have to talk about. But right now, it’s not my preoccupation.

“I think we’re just looking at the game tonight and that’s all that matters.”

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