SUNRISE — The most anticipated game of the Florida Panthers early-season schedule is Saturday’s homecoming of Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar coming back to South Florida.
But Reunion Week started Wednesday when Mason Marchment returned with a bunch of his now-former teammates hosting him for dinner in Fort Lauderdale.
Thursday night, Marchment will be back at FLA Live Arena for the first time since he left the Panthers for his first big NHL contract, a four-year, $18 million deal with the Dallas Stars.
Marchment told Matt DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News — who happens to be the last Panthers’ beat writer from the Sun-Sentinel — that he was looking forward to seeing his old pals.
“I’m excited,” Marchment said per DeFranks’ Morning News story. “It’ll be fun to get back out there and play against the old boys. I really enjoyed my time there, and good group of people, great staff. Definitely people I’ll have friendships with for life. It’s just good to go back and see them.”
Brandon Montour, Sam Reinhart and Anton Lundell remain close with Marchment, a player whom the Panthers really would have loved to have kept around. After his breakout season last year, however, no one expected that to be reality.
In 54 games with the Panthers last season spent mostly on a line with Lundell and Reinhart, Marchment scored 18 goals with 47 points.
This came off the heels of a strong end to the 2021 season in which Joel Quenneville moved Marchment up to play on Florida’s top line and he found success with Sasha Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe.
Not bad for a guy who went undrafted and spent years playing for Toronto’s AHL team before the Panthers acquired him a 2020 trade deadline deal for the underperforming Denis Malgin.
Florida certainly missed Marchment’s style of play in the playoffs as he was hurt in the Washington series and did not play against Tampa Bay.
“It was definitely big,” Marchment said of being given a chance with the Panthers. “They gave me a really big opportunity there, and (was) able to open up my game a little bit instead of kind of just playing shutdown (roles). Thankful for that.”
Said Lundell: “It is nice to see him and last year was such an unbelievable year. It was so much fun to play with him. But now we’re on the other side. Maybe we’ll say hi before and after the game, but we’re not friends out there. We’re happy he was able to find a good spot and it looks like he is playing good.’’
Former Panthers coach Pete DeBoer usually enjoys his visits back to South Florida as he has done so numerous times since being fired by his first NHL team in 2011.
DeBoer, who had very successful stints in New Jersey, San Jose and Vegas before being hired by the Stars, now has another close friend to visit when he comes through town as he and current Florida coach Paul Maurice have been the closest of friends since they were teammates in Windsor as teenagers.
Maurice gave DeBoer his first coaching job while he was still going to law school in Detroit with the Junior Red Wings.
DeBoer eventually gave up his days of being a lawyer when he replaced Maurice as head coach of the OHL team when Maurice moved on to bigger things as an assistant coach with the Hartford Whalers.
The two talk frequently and Maurice hinted they may get together Wednesday night if “they’re staying in Fort Lauderdale, I’ll give him a call and see what he’s doing.”
“We have been in the league a long time and last year when he came to Winnipeg was the first time he came to the house for dinner,” Maurice continued. “There just isn’t that much time. You grab a cup of coffee at the rink, but that’s about it.”
This has been a tough couple of weeks for Marchment as he visited San Jose for the first time since the sudden death of his father Bryan.
Bryan Marchment, a top scout with the Sharks, was in Montreal at the NHL draft when he passed.
Mason Marchment signed with the Stars a few days after his father’s death.
DeBoer and longtime assistant coach Steve Spott were friends with Bryan Marchment — Mason said he has known Spott since he was 5 — and the fit has been great.
Marchment scored Tuesday night in Tampa to give him five goals this season after a fast start.
When in San Jose, the Stars wore similar helmet decals to honor Bryan Marchment to match the ones the Sharks are wearing this season; DeBoer wore a No. 27 pin on his suit jacket in that game.
DeBoer told the Morning News that returning to South Florida, a place that holds many great memories and a lot of close friends, should be good for Mason.
“Obviously, that team and this area holds a special place for him,” DeBoer said. “You can see he was excited coming on this trip. I think with everything last week, the San Jose game and honoring his dad and all that, I think he needed to get on the road and hopefully go back here where he’s done a lot of good things.”
The Panthers plan to honor Mason for his contributions to their team during a break in the first period Thursday night as they will Saturday for Huberdeau and Weegar.
It is well deserved.
“He has by far come a lot farther of a way than I thought he was going to,’’ Bryan Marchment told FHN before Mason made his return to San Jose with the Panthers last season.
“I’m very proud of him. He has worked hard and he has stuck with it.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
DALLAS STARS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Split 1-1
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 24-19-2, 3 ties