CORAL SPRINGS — Any thought that new Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice was going to ease his team into training camp was dismissed two minutes in.
Maurice, who was hired in June to replace interim coach Andrew Brunette, started the first group exactly at 9 a.m. and by 9:02 had brought the group together for his first round of instruction.
He did this over and over as the first group worked on breakouts before ending the practice session with work along the walls and a lot of conditioning skating.
”We are going to do things a certain way,’’ Maurice said. “It was hard and they handled it. It wasn’t easy for them, we had them bent over a couple of times. But they can handle it.”
By the time the second group took the ice at noon, they had probably been warned what was to come.
“The first day was good. They worked hard and got pushed hard,’’ Maurice said. “They responded to it very well. There are a lot of fit men in this group. … Tempo, pace and energy is what we ask from the players and the coaches brought that too. Two or three of us will lose our voice by Day 4 and the other guys will have to yell more. We’ll spread it around a little bit.
”We weren’t looking to see how tough they are. We have a good feeling for these guys. But the game is played along the wall so, we did a good 20 minutes at the end along the wall. It’s pretty taxing for them to do that then skate after.
“The last half hour was not a good time to be a pro hockey player. But the game is played there. We put a pretty stiff practice out there for them and were pleased on the early returns of the fitness report and you could see it today.”
The Panthers split up the groups so it was hard to tell what Maurice and his mostly-new coaching staff have in mind as far as lineups go.
With three weeks before the season-opener on Long Island, there is plenty of time to figure all of that out.
Maurice said he did try and keep players together who had played together before — Sasha Barkov with Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Bennett with Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell with Sam Reinhart, for instance.
Yet in the early days of camp before the first players are sent back to their junior teams, this is the time to get a lot of work in and not worry about how things look when the games start.
Florida is scheduled to have two practices in each of the next three days before Monday’s preseason doubleheader in Nashville.
With 55 players in camp and only 40 spots available for the two games against the Predators, a large portion of Florida’s veteran players are not expected to play in the Music City exhibitions.
”It was fun to finally get a real practice again,’’ Bennett said. “We had a great skate, worked hard and it was a grind. But, it was nice to be back out there.’’
Although the individual lines have not been ironed out, based on who was on the ice, you could see an idea of how Maurice would like to see things flesh out.
Lundell centered the third line with the now-departed Mason Marchment and Reinhart last season but at times Thursday was working as a winger.
Maurice said while he loves Lundell at center, that “doesn’t mean we won’t try him on the wing.’’
He then preempted a reporter’s follow-up question that perhaps with Anthony Duclair out, could Lundell be moved up into the top-6 to “load up the top two lines? I would say, ‘we will see how it goes’.”
”We’ve got a bunch of guys who can for-sure play center ice,” Maurice said. “We don’t want to play with everything at once.”
— The Panthers are split into two groups with ‘Team A’ using the main locker room at the IceDen with ‘Team B’ relegated to a makeshift room at the end of the complex.
Sergei Bobrovsky is with the first group and second-year goalie Spencer Knight on the other.
Florida has a total of six goalies in camp with J-F Berube in on a professional tryout — he is still sporting his Columbus Blue Jackets’ mask from last season — and Evan Fitzpatrick on a minor-league deal.
— The Staal brothers — defenseman Marc and forward Eric — were both together on the second group and got a lot of one-on-one work against each other in the afternoon session.
Marc Staal signed a one-year deal with the Panthers after spending the past two seasons in Detroit; Eric Staal is in camp on a PTO after being out of the league last year.
He was the captain of Team Canada at the Olympics and did play a couple of conditioning games with the AHL Iowa Wild.
— Maurice was not the only new coach on the ice as assistant coaches Jamie Kompon and Sylvain Lefebvre also made their Florida debuts.
— Charlotte Checkers captain Zac Dalpe did some individual work on the ice but did not practice with the group.