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Matthew Tkachuk: ‘I Feel Like the Luckiest Hockey Player’

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Matthew Tkachuk is on the ice with Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick during the third period on Nov. 5, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

If Matthew Tkachuk had not expressed how much he loves South Florida and playing for the Panthers in the past, he certainly did in an interview released on Tuesday.

Speaking on the Cam & Strick podcast hosted by Cam Janssen and Andy Strickland in his hometown of St. Louis, Tkachuk spoke on a variety of subjects — the interview went over an hour — including: Florida’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, his father’s radio rant which may-or-may-not have spurred on his team’s charge to the postseason as well as how much he wants to win not only a Stanley Cup but a Gold medal with Team USA.

Tkachuk also spoke a lot about life in the sun with the Panthers.

“I feel like the luckiest hockey player for being able to play in Canada, which I feel like everybody’s got to do once because it is different,’’ Tkachuk said. “But now being in a place where I want to hopefully spend the rest of my career and build with this team. I mean, Florida … there’s no better place to play and I can’t explain it more. You just have to experience it.’’

Do your friends on other teams feel the same way?

“I get that a lot,’’ Tkachuk said. “They all know.”

Tkachuk talked about a number of things which had not really been talked about in the past which included his relationship with coach Paul Maurice (“he has made me so much of a better player”) as well as the recruitment process last summer in which he had “Florida No. 1 in my heart” as he was also talking to St. Louis and Carolina.

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Tkachuk also talked about making an absentminded hop onto the ice late in the third period of a tied Game 5 in Boston which led to a too-many-men penalty.

“It was loud and I just jumped over and it was (Eric) Staal’s line,” Tkachuk said. “It was all my fault, no one else knew what happened. It was a horrible ‘my fault.’ Their power play was lights out at this point but I wasn’t worried about it. I knew we would kill it. … It was kind of a Cinderella story where you didn’t know how it was going to happen, you just knew it would get done. I’ll have memories of that series for my entire life.”

Florida did survive that, Sergei Bobrovsky made a season-saving save on Brad Marchand and the rest, well, is history.

“They had all the pressure in the world on them,” Tkachuk said. “We needed to win one game in Boston and winning Game 2 gave us so much confident. They beat us up good in 3 and 4 in Florida, but going back, we knew we just won there. Guys were down flying back to Boston but we wanted to make them come back to Florida. The second we won Game 5, you could see it. We knew we were going to win it.”

As for his injury sustained in Game 3 of the Final which caused him to miss Game 5, Tkachuk said he is close to 100 percent.

To hear the whole interview, click on the link above or on the YouTube link below.

Here are some of the highlights of the wide-ranging interview:

— On telling Calgary he would not sign long-term:

“Looking back, there’s — you could change a little bit here or there — but I don’t feel I could have put both sides in a better position at that time. I mean, I could have easily just signed my one-year deal and if I really didn’t want to be there, which isn’t necessarily the case, it’s just, I love Florida. And it worked out perfectly the way it worked out from my side at least.”

— Did you know you would love Florida this much? And why?

“No, not to this extent. I knew, I was going to love it. It’s such a bad answer, but literally everything. The guys, the town, the activities. Everything. I was talking to some of my buddies the other day and some of our fondest memories was just having 10-15 people from St. Louis down there and just sitting outside and it’s just so nice. You’re at the rink until 2 a.m. and it’s not fully dark yet. When you’re at the rink, it is as business as you could imagine. … We are there to win hockey games. You’re not there for a good way of life.

“That is not what the Florida Panthers are about anymore. So, it’s the best of both worlds for me. I can go there, do my work and everybody’s on the same page with working hard and grinding and wanting to see success. And then I’m able to go home. And I still love watching hockey at night. It’s not like I’m out fishing or playing golf every single second of the day. I’m still a hockey player and still love what I do but it’s just everything about life and the people down there. Everyone’s having a good time.”

— It has not always been that way with the Panthers…

“I think that that Paul and Bill are both amazing at what they do.  Bill obviously has his agent background so … he will give you every single thing that you need to perform. And it doesn’t matter what it is, he will find a way to make that happen. He also expects the most out of you. I wouldn’t say he is hard in your face about it. But if they’re going to do things for us, they expect we’re going to (play hard). Bill has been incredible and Paul has as well. … He is the perfect coach for our team. … He is that great mix of old-school where if you don’t play hard, you’re not going to play sort of thing. But he is also relaxed where, if you’re not having fun at the rink, like what are we doing? It’s the perfect mix.

“Obviously you would think that everyday would be fun in Florida, but we’re still hockey players and when you lose, it’s not that fun. But he he continued to make each day like there’s no dog days. When you have a great time, you seem to win more.’’

— Getting noticed in South Florida?

“After the All-Sstar Game, more and more people started to realize — I don’t want to say what hockey is, but who the Panthers are and some of the players. … They all know now. At the All-Star Game, we weren’t doing so well, were kind of middle of the pack. I wasn’t taking it to heart that they didn’t know who we were. We weren’t playing good at all. The month of March was big for us, we were gaining traction and the fan support was insane. Then we’re in the playoffs and we’re playing Boston, it doesn’t matter how good our fans are, and they are unbelievable, but half the rink is Boston fans. Then our fans are into it with their fans. Then Toronto comes to town and it’s the same thing. The teams we played may have brought out more Florida fans because they were like ‘screw these Boston fans, you’re not coming and taking over our city.’ After Toronto, we had all the support you could imagine. It was it was incredible.’’

— Best team, aside from Vegas, Florida played in the playoffs?

“Vegas was the best and they were clearly a step above us which obviously hurts. You can use every excuse where we weren’t healthy, they were healthier, but that that’s that’s a bunch of bullshit. We got outplayed. Even though we had such a great run and we were so close, there was a team out there that was better than us. We have a lot of work to do to finish the job. But Boston and Vegas were very similar. They were the two that were the step above.’’

— When did racing off the ice become a thing?

“I remember doing it in Game 5 in Boston when I scored, we hugged quick and I was like, ‘let’s just get out. Go back to Florida now like keep this going.’ Let’s get back. So we did a little hug and I was first one off and nobody really talks about it but we were off within 15-20 seconds. It was pretty funny. Game 1 against Carolina went four overtimes, I think it ended at like 1:30. It was painful. I can’t even describe how much my feet hurt. At that point, my skates are loose from sweat. It was gross. But I just remember shooting it. I couldn’t see the puck going on but I turned and looked at the bench and everybody just, that feeling of everybody jumping off. That was that was amazing too. So I was just so tired. I got off the ice.”

Keith Tkachuk’s radio rant before the Toronto game:

“With social media now, if you have these things and you go on it for some reason, it’s popping up. So like there’s no way a player is on their phone on Instagram or Twitter and doesn’t see it. It was impossible. It was nothing bad. When I saw that, I was like, ‘come on, like dad what do you do?’ And I was more pissed because — I wasn’t pissed at him or at the radio show or anything — but we’re in an important stretch. We don’t need to be worried about that. Maybe he had a point and we weren’t playing like I know we could at that point. … We knew in the locker room we were playing awful. We really had a chance to make the playoffs and then we lose four in a row at an important time and we’re losing them badly, not playing hard. We had to fix this. … I’m sure Paul felt very similar to that and then that’s when he got going during that game against Toronto. We’re on our last life and we’re playing like that to start the game? … That game was our turning point.’’

— The Hit

“Everything feels great. I’m good, I’m back. It wasn’t the hardest hit I’ve ever taken. It just got me on that perfect spot. I thought it was a collarbone or something or a shoulder. It was a lot of pain.”

— Florida hockey fans

“I go out there for my first shift … and I got a standing ovation as I’m going out there. They knew, they showed me the love and they’re smart. They knew I had not played and it’s not like I was helped off the ice. I snuck off the bench. They’re dialed in and knew everything and I just thought it was like a really cool like act from them to show … that’s when you know they’re locked in. It just shows people don’t have the right thoughts or they don’t think the right things when it comes to hockey in Florida or the Panthers fan. It’s an amazing place to play and there’s amazing people there who love hockey.”

— Before the Blockbuster trade

‘’We worked on it together. With (Calgary’s)  permission, I was able for one week to talk to other teams and figure it out. I don’t want to say specific teams but I talked to a bunch of them. I had to be honest. It would be like ‘no no, no, no, maybe, yes, yes, no.’

“It really came down to — it’s pretty known to everybody — the three final teams were Florida, Carolina and St. Louis. I just tried to do my homework on all of them. … It was a very interesting time and I just wanted to learn the most I could before this very important decision. But every single day, everything started pointing towards Florida and that’s where my heart was the whole time.’’

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