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Radko Gudas Revels in Return, Enjoys Win over ‘His’ Florida Panthers

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Anaheim Ducks defenseman Radko Gudas celebrates with teammate Cam Fowler following their 5-4 overtime win agains the Panthers on Monday in Sunrise. Gudas, who spent the past three seasons with Florida, used to have a similar celebration with the Panthers. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

SUNRISE —When Radko Gudas took the ice Monday afternoon, he got a taste of just how much he meant to the Florida Panthers.

In his first game back in Sunrise since signing with the Anaheim Ducks this past offseason, Gudas was met with a flurry of signs with his name on it and fans donning his old No. 7 Panthers jersey as warmups began.

“I didn’t expect that much support coming back, but it was great to see,” Gudas said after he soaked up his team’s upset 5-4 overtime win.

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“I absolutely enjoyed the warmups and it was one of my favorite games of the year. Just seeing the love from the fans that they still have for me, and the cherry on top is the win for us. But seeing the support I got here from the fans and even from the team, it’s going to be something I’m going to remember for a while.”

When Gudas was honored with a tribute video by the Panthers, the fans at Amerant Bank Arena responded with one of the loudest ovations the building has seen all season.

All of them let Gudas know how much he meant to the Panthers — and to them.

“He meant a lot,” former Florida teammate Ryan Lomberg said. “He was one of the first guys Bill Zito brought in to change the culture of the Florida Panthers and he did that on and off the ice. He played hard every night and every day in practice, and he was an amazing teammate and person.”

Ever since he stepped foot in Sunrise, Gudas gave the Panthers everything he had.

In his three seasons here, the Panthers made it to the playoffs three times, went to the Stanley Cup Final and won the NHL Presidents’ Trophy.

His lumberjack beard and physical style were a huge hit with the fans.

“He was an amazing teammate and he did a lot of the things that go unnoticed,” Lomberg said.

“He was bringing the group together, he made sure everybody was included, and of course, on the ice, he would stick up for his teammates and be a leader by the way he played every night.’’

For a player as physical as Gudas, Monday was a tough game to play in.

Once the puck dropped, his close friends turned into enemies for 60-plus minutes and it was something he had to manage while he was out there.

He did end up getting the last laugh, however, as his Ducks squeaked out a 5-4 overtime win.

Naturally, he picked up five hits, too.

“Since I got here, it felt like I was part of something special,” said Gudas, who is the Panthers’ all-time leader in hits despite only being here three years.

“We were building a community, we were building a culture, we were building everything and it was all clicking. So, I was going to have great memories for this organization for those past three years I spent here.

“The thing about those great memories was that those guys on the other side are all my brothers, so it was a little harder for me to play against them, especially here in this building again. I had to go over the emotional bump, but they’re a great team, they’re playing unbelievable right now, and they were dangerous from the first minute to the last.

“I’m really happy we got the two points, but those guys know what they’re doing and I think we got a little lucky tonight. But it’s part of hockey.”

ON DECK

DETROIT RED WINGS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS  

  • When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • Streaming/TV: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN+
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL/Panthers App
  • Last Season: Florida won 3-0
  • This Season (Panthers Lead 1-0) — At Detroit: Panthers 2, Wings 0 (Nov. 2); March 2. At Florida: Wednesday; March 30
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Florida leads 37-19-6, 5 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Friday vs. Minnesota Wild, 7 p.m.

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