The Florida Panthers were back from a welcomed break in their season Friday afternoon and had a nice surprise waiting for them at FLA Live Arena when they came out onto the ice.
During the team’s absence — Florida last played at home on Jan. 29 — the team installed brand new dasher boards around the rink and new tempered plexiglas as well.
General manager Bill Zito joked that when he first walked onto the ice surface at the team’s arena in Sunrise in 2020, he checked out the boards and asked if they were the ones used for training camp.
He was told the aged boards were in fact the ones the team used all the time.
Plans to replace the boards, which are believed to be the original ones from the arena’s opening in 1998, started right then and there.
The boards also add a new look to the Florida rink as the old ones had a blue cap on top with a yellow kickboard at ice level.
The new dasherboard caps are red and the kickboards are now seamless and flush with the boards giving a more consistent bounce when a puck comes off them.
It was a piece of arena renovation which was long overdue and, perhaps, simply overlooked over the years.
According to Rob Stevenson, the team’s senior VP and general manager of facilities, the Panthers worked with the NHL and with Athletica systems to find the best fit for the arena.
The work was started on Jan. 31 while the team was playing in Columbus and completed a few days later.
“These boards are the latest technology from Athletica and we worked with the NHL and asked for their guidance on who to go with and and what the specifications had to be,’’ Stevenson said.
“We were fortunate that we had the ability to address it and it was a competitive need to replace the boards. We have a 100 percent commitment to excellence in everything we do so this is just in line with that. We’re really excited that our players and fans get to enjoy the new boards. … We want the ‘field of play’ to be consistent and that was important for the league as well. We think this will achieve that.”
With the new boards comes brand new glass which is welcome news for fans who sit in the premier seats.
The old plexiglas used was noticeably scarred.
The new glass will be like watching the game on an old, standard television set and then going to high definition.
On Friday, the glass was crystal clear although over time, it will not remain that way without arena staff taking care of it by using cleaning products and razor blades to get rid of puck marks.
”For those who are seated behind the glass, it will be a totally different experience,” Stevenson said, “one that we think will make the game even more exciting.”
The Panthers were originally supposed to hold their first practice at their training facility in Coral Springs, but coach Andrew Brunette wants his team to hold as many workouts at the arena to get used to the new boards.
The old ones, as they aged, took on characteristics in different spots with Brunette recalling a certain spot in the corner from his playing days.
”I thought they looked great,” Brunette said. “The boards are a little more bouncy and that’s something we’ll have to get used to. We go in every rink and see new boards all the time, but it’s nice to know your own bounces in your own rink. It’ll be nice to skate on it a little more. …
“I don’t know if there were too many true bounces on the old boards. The left corner on the far side was a little danger area and I remember that from when I was playing. You knew there was a part that stuck out and had to be careful as a goalie dumping pucks on that one end — and as a forward, you hoped to catch it careeming to the middle of the ice.”
The arena is hosting a concert Saturday night so the team will spend the next two days in Coral Springs but will return to Sunrise on Tuesday.
The Panthers do not host a home game until Nashville comes to town on Feb. 22.
“What we were doing today was getting used to it, throwing pucks off the boards and see where the bounces are,” said Aaron Ekblad, who has been with the Panthers since 2014.
“In the past, we tried to stay away from using them because of the odd bounces but these seem a lot more consistent and hopefully we’ll get used to the equipment. Consistency on the bounces is what you get with the new ones.”
Added MacKenzie Weegar: “I was talking to the boys today and mentioning that sometimes we got a few memory bounces out of those old boards, which was nice. But it was nice to feel those new boards, it was a little bouncy and we did a lot of drills where we directing pucks to see how they went.
“It was real nice of Vinnie and Bill to do that for everyone here. We needed that and I think a lot of teams are going to appreciate it as well. It was needed and was nice they took the initiative.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT CAROLINA HURRICANES
- WHEN: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
- WHERE: PNC Arena, Raleigh, N.C.
- TICKETS: CLICK HERE
- TV/STREAMING: TNT
- RADIO: WQAM 560-AM
- Last season: Carolina won 6-0-2
- All-time regular season series: Carolina leads 69-45-9, 11 ties
- This season: @Florida 5, Carolina 2 (Nov. 6), Florida 4, @Carolina 3 OT (Jan. 8)