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Panthers Pregame: ‘Sad day’ but Florida ready to get back at it in Detroit

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Florida Panthers assistant coach Andrew Brunette looks on during a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on February 10, 2020 at the Wells Fargo Center. — Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire

On a typical day like this, it would be customary to congratulate an assistant coach who had just been promoted to head coach — interim or not — of an. NHL team. But these are not typical circumstances for Andrew Brunette and his Florida Panthers as they tried to prepare to for a game against the host Detroit Red Wings on Friday.

Brunette, a veteran of 1,110 NHL games as a player and a handful of years behind the bench as an assistant, takes the reins of a championship-caliber team in the midst of their best start in franchise history.

There were few smiles among the Panthers on Friday after losing their leader to a sexual abuse scandal that led at least two of the team’s top players searching for answers.

Both Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau spoke Friday from Detroit in the wake of Joel Quenneville resigning after meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in Manhattan on Thursday afternoon.

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Quenneville, the second-winningest coach in NHL history, meant a lot to his players and to the Panthers. But after watching the revealing interview by former Blackhawks’ player Kyle Beach, it doesn’t look like Quenneville will be looked at the same again.

”It has been a crazy few days with all the information and all that has happened,” said Ekblad, who was far from his usual effusive self Friday. “We’re a team that’s a bit raw right now but we have to come together. It’s tough to see it all. We understand the decision … Ultimately that interview gave me a tremendous amount of respect for Kyle Beach and what he went through. I’m not sure about my feelings right now. I’m trying to gather them.”

Said Huberdeau: “Listening to Kyle’s story; that’s something that shouldn’t happen in the game or anywhere. It’s not easy to assess everything. It’s a story you never want to hear. … We are a family and we’ll process everything and get back to playing hockey.”

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As for Brunette, the Panthers are going to keep things in house for the time being. Brunette, now in his third season with Florida after joining Quenneville‘s staff in 2019, is the interim head coach but the Panthers are going to be watching.

The team is looking for an experienced coach to take over this talented team, but also thinks Brunette could be the guy for the job.

The players not only like him but respect him. He has been there and done that.

He’s not Quenneville, but who out there is?

”I’m just day-to-day,” Brunette said before coaching his first game in the NHL. “I’m just trying to process everything here and trying to help our group the best I can, be a great teammate and try to get us through this right now.

“The biggest challenge is to continue what we’re doing, get this group’s head around … we haven’t been through much adversity and this is about as big as you can get. We have a great group of guys, a great leadership group. They are relying on each other and we’ll get through this. … We’ll lean on each other. This is a hard time. Nothing compared to what Kyle is going through, not by any stretch. These guys, we have a great group and they’ll find a way through it. They have been through a whirlwind, too.”

As for the circumstances around his big promotion, Brunette was solemn. No one wants to get a job — no matter how prestigious — like this.

Quenneville is a friend and a mentor to Brunette.

The past few days have been hard on everyone associated with the Panthers.

“It’s a real sad day for everyone involved,” Brunette said. “It’s a sad day for hockey with Kyle Beach and everything he’s had to gone through and had to deal with. Again, it’s a sad day for our organization, a sad day for our players and a sad day for the game of hockey. It’s a great game. We’re better than that, the game’s better than that. We have to get better as a group of hockey players and society needs to be better.”

— Brunette said that defenseman Kevin Connauton would be a game-time decision after blocking a shot with his skate on Wednesday night.

Markus Nutivaara could be activated before the game as he is a game-time decision as well. Regardless of whether he plays tonight or not, it looks like Nutivaara is close to a return after he got hurt in a practice just before the season started.

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FLORIDA PANTHERS AT DETROIT RED WINGS

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