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Hockey Is Back. The Florida Panthers Want to Be ‘A Little Better’

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Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov shoots a promotional video on the ice of Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise on Wednesday as part of the team’s 2023-24 media day. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

SUNRISE — It does not seem all that long ago that the Florida Panthers held their end-of-season press conference inside the media work room following their Game 5 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final.

“Honestly,’’ captain Sasha Barkov said, “it feels like I was just here a couple of weeks ago.’’

On Wednesday morning, almost three months to the day that the Panthers were last in this arena, they were back for preseason physicals and fulfill various media responsibilities.

The mood was a little more upbeat this time around.

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Instead of saying goodbyes and packing up gear for the summer, Wednesday’s gathering was a cheerful one as the team prepares for yet another season — the franchise’s 30th — and another run at glory.

The Panthers talked about their march through the playoffs, but pointed out that this is a new deal.

“I hate talking about last year but there are some great memories,’’ Florida postseason hero Matthew Tkachuk said.

“It did not end the way we wanted to. You cannot dwell on years past but keep it in your mind because that experience from last year can help us this year. You can’t totally forget it, but we need to create some new memories this year.’’

Yes, this team is ready to turn the page and move on to their next challenge.

No one is forgetting what the last team here accomplished nor are they trying to banish it to the attic.

In fact, many of the things the team overcame and battled through during the second half of last season and that two-month postseason run may help this team moving forward.

But move forward is something they have to do.

The players from last season will have another chance to recall the fun from last summer when a second Eastern Conference championship banner is unfurled during the home opener but it won’t help them win a single game.

“I don’t think there is any reason to forget what we did last year,’’ Barkov said. “We’re just going to be hungrier this year. We know what we did and how we did it. It is possible the way we did it. We just have to be a little better.

“Obviously there are 31 other teams who will make it tough on you, but you just go a day at a time. The more banners on the roof, the better. It is a great achievement but it is not a Stanley Cup banner. We want to achieve that and we’re doing everything we can every day to get there to that point.”

The Panthers will look a little different this season as no team remains completely intact from one year to the next.

There were a number of new faces donning unfamiliar red sweaters as they went from one station to the next posing for photos, shooting promotional videos and recording various podcasts.

A number of players as well as general manager Bill Zito returned to the same stage in the workroom which was set up for them on June 21 following their return from Las Vegas.

The arena walls have been stripped of any reference to the Stanley Cup Final and new ice is down on the arena’s floor — an arena, by the way, which has a new name.

When coach Paul Maurice spoke back in June, he talked about having “fallen in love’’ with his team during the postseason but warned that he could not have that kind of attitude once training camp opened in a few months.

Well, those months are all behind them now.

“You have to start from scratch,’’ Maurice said then, “start from zero with those guys. … I can’t be in love with them in training camp.”

That training camp officially gets under way today at 9 a.m. at the IceDen in Coral Springs and the Florida Panthers expect to be put through the paces as they were last year when Maurice first skated them into the ground.

“If I was a betting man, I would say 100 percent it’s going to be the same way,’’ Tkachuk said. “I think last year we had a few days of throwing up and it was a tough camp. But looking back, it helped us in the end.

“It helped us when times were tough and where emotions were high and the pressure was on, we related back to when we went through hell in training camp. With everything that happened last season, including training camp and coming back and the playoffs, it was great and the experience was great, we dod have a lot of new guys this year.”

This is a new year and a new challenge which is the same as the old one.

Those Florida Panthers fell three wins short of the ultimate goal last June and now have to try and not only make it to the playoffs again — but finish the job they set out to do when the Stanley Cup Final started.

“I am excited for the new season, the new opportunity, the new challenge,” goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said.

“It was definitely a great experience, I learned more in those two months of playoff hockey than in my 13-year career. We’ll see. … we’re not going to know what we’re going to face. I am ready, I am excited and I am happy to be here. …

“It gives you confidence that in the process, you did some right things. You can build from that. It is also there and in the locker room, we have a belief in each other. The big thing to understand is everything starts at zero. We have to build again and push forward.”

Added Barkov: “I am more excited. It was a big disappointment in the Final because we didn’t win it, obviously Vegas was really good and deserved to win. But the postseason and the regular season with all the ups-and-downs and how we overcame them just made us hungrier for this year. Now, with pretty much the same group, front office and coaches, we know what to expect from training camp and I think everyone is prepared for a hard camp again.’’

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