SUNRISE — Day after day, Patric Hornqvist slides on his gear and hits the ice with the rest of his Florida Panthers teammates.
He usually starts off by warming up one of the goalies who came out early.
Hornqvist, one of the most competitive players in the entire National Hockey League, goes through one practice after another with no idea whether he will ever get to suit up — for real — and play in an actual game again.
The two-time Stanley Cup champion last played on Dec. 3 in Seattle. Hornqvist was caught in the head by the elbow of Daniel Sprong in passing.
It was Hornqvist’s second concussion within the span of a month.
He has not played since.
Coach Paul Maurice continues to stress Hornqvist will not play again this season and Hornqvist confirmed that to FHN this week.
Yet here is Hornqvist, going hard each and every day to help his team prepare for what is next.
His dedication to the game and to his Panthers is why the Florida chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association nominated him for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy which goes to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.
Hornqvist was a natural choice to be nominated for the prestigious award even before this season happened. He certainly is today.
”It has been tough, obviously, with the injury I have,” Hornqvist said in his first interview since December.
“But I want to be in the best shape I can be in case this thing turns around here. Being on the ice obviously helps my mindset and I enjoy being around the boys. I feel good off the ice, but I am not there on the ice.”
Hornqvist spoke at length this week about what his future in hockey may look like, whether he will play again and why he continues to work so hard on and off the ice.
Maurice has stated on the record that Hornqvist will not play again this season, dispelling the thought the reason he has been on long-term injured reserve these final five months was simply to give Florida some salary cap breathing room.
Hornqvist is in the final season of the five-year deal he signed with Pittsburgh in 2018 and his $5.3 million cap hit has certainly given Florida the relief it has needed to operate like a real NHL team.
That may have been the reason why Hornqvist did not play during the regular season, but it is not why Hornqvist will not play in the postseason.
Starting today, the Panthers do not have to abide by salary cap rules as they do not apply once the regular season ends.
Hornqvist could be in the lineup for Game 1 if the Panthers want him there.
He would love to be in that lineup, there is no doubt about that.
Only Hornqvist’s situation is more than hockey.
It is about quality of life. Two concussions within the span of a few weeks for a 36-year-old is a serious thing — especially with the vigor Hornqvist plays this game with.
He will not hold back, everyone knows this. His physical play is his strength and it puts him at risk.
The Panthers will not put him in that situation.
Working out on and off the ice, Hornqvist said, has at least helped him away from the game.
“This is my lifestyle and I want the best kind of life after hockey and I know I have to work hard at that,’’ Hornqvist said. “When I was struggling, I did not feel very good. Once I started skating harder, things turned around.
“I felt better in my normal life and that is all that matters now. It was tough with what happened, but I was able to turn it around pretty quickly. Let’s see if I can take the next step or not. But I am not thinking about that right now.”
But what is next for Hornqvist?
The Panthers have praised him for his work on the ice with other injured players, Maurice crediting him with pushing Anthony Duclair during their on-ice workouts.
Hornqvist remains a big part of the Florida Panthers regardless of whether he is in the lineup each night or not.
“He is just an incredible example of professionalism and a love of the game,” Maurice told FHN.
“He loves it so much. For all intent and purposes he is not coming back this year and he has to decide what is next. He loves this game so much and he is fantastic to have around all of our players but especially our injured ones. A coach may try and get you to skate faster but at some point the player doesn’t want to do it anymore. But Patric is going to be the hardest worker out there. Guys like him just have a special love for the game.”
Said Hornqvist: “I try to do my best to stay involved as much as I can, help the team in any way I can. All credit to the boys. It did not look good here two weeks ago and things have changed in a hurry. And the good thing about this team is, they are feeling good going into the playoffs. All the ingredients are there for a good playoff run.”
While Hornqvist does not like the ‘Coach’ moniker, those around him feel he is a natural to stay in the game once his playing days are over.
”A job in this game whether it is scouting or coaching or whatever,” Maurice said, “is ready for him whenever he is. Whatever he wants to be, he will be around the game the rest of his life if that is what he wants.”
But when will that next career start?
There is a prevailing opinion that the Panthers would welcome Hornqvist back next season if he so chose.
Hornqvist does not sound like someone who knows exactly what next year will hold.
”I don’t know. It has been a grind,” Hornqvist said. “We will see what happens. I don’t know yet. It would be real easy to say in April what I plan on doing next year. It is too early. I am not going to get into that right now.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
BOSTON BRUINS (ATL1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
- When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: Boston Garden
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN/ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM/WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Tied 2-2): @Boston 5, Florida 3 (Oct. 17); @Florida 5, Boston 2 (Nov. 23); @Boston 7, Florida 3 (Dec. 19); @Florida 4, Boston 3 OT (Jan. 28)
- Last season: Boston won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Boston leads 60-38-6, 6 ties
- Playoff History (Florida leads 1-0): Panthers 4-1, 1996 (first round)
- First Round Schedule — Game 1: Monday, 7:30 (ESPN); Game 2: at Boston, Wednesday, 7:30 (ESPN); Game 3: at Florida, Friday, 7:30 (TNT); Game 4: at Florida, Sunday, April 23, 3:30 (TNT); Game 5*: at Boston, Wednesday, April 26; Game 6*: at Florida, Friday, April 28; Game 7*: at Boston, Sunday, April 30.