CORAL SPRINGS — For the first time since leaving the Florida Panthers for personal reasons in late February, goalie Spencer Knight spoke publicly on Wednesday.
Knight did not go into detail on why he joined the NHL/NHLPA players’ assistance program but said he was happy to be back at the IceDen as part of the team’s development camp.
“It has been great, just coming back down here and being in a familiar area,” Knight said. “I knew a couple of these guys already whether it was former teammates or guys I have played against. It’s good to see them, meet a few new faces. It’s a really good time here. … Seeing some familiar faces like trainers, coaches, the guys. It is fun. Honestly, what I think about hockey is the faces and the people. I think that gets overlooked when it is all said and done.”
The league had to give special permission for Knight to attend the development camp as, with parts of three NHL seasons under his belt, he was not eligible to participate.
Knight felt it was important to get back with the team and return to organized hockey activities.
“I think it is important for the sake that this is a great opportunity to play hockey,’’ Knight said. “Any opportunity to play hockey is a great opportunity. It’s also good for my game. I’m just coming in to work hard and there are things I am working on whether it’s positioning or skating.
“You can’t replicate that in an environment where there isn’t any structure or intensity. This is one step and then it’s going to games although nothing compares to games. It’s nice to get back in the swing of things.”
Although Knight did not get into the details of his decision to leave the team — it has been stressed it was not due to drugs or alcohol — he did hint to his mental state at the time.
“I don’t think it is the right time to address anything on that front,” he said. “I’ll do that when I think the time is right. Regardless, I am happy to just be here and to just have fun. I think that’s the biggest thing.”
A few days prior, Florida made the decision to send Knight to the team’s AHL team in Charlotte to get some work what with the team having a more spread out schedule and Sergei Bobrovsky expected to get most of those starts.
Knight, it was said then, was going to go to Charlotte to get some playing time in and was expected to be back with the Panthers soon enough.
The Panthers brought in Anthony Stolarz during free agency on a one-year, one-way deal worth $1.1 million with GM Bill Zito saying there would be competition for the backup spot behind Bobrovsky in training camp.
When asked about that Wednesday, Knight said he is trying to learn to deal with things a little better than he had in the past.
The NHL and NHLPA started the player assistance program in 1996, giving players access to a confidential phone line and counselors in each city throughout the league.
The jointly-funded group assists players and families with mental health, substance abuse and other matters.
“We can speculate on how things might go, but one thing I have learned is that I have to be cool with whatever happens,” Knight said.
“If you are here, great; If you are there, great. If that happens, great. That’s the approach I have to have. I know the skill I have and I don’t doubt that. The skill combined with physical capability, I think I have tremendous skill and can be one of the best goalies in this league.
“I’m still 22. The mentality of embracing the uncertainty and embrace that we don’t know what’s going to happen next. Do you think Florida thought it would be in the Stanley Cup Final in January? But they were, right? Who knows what’s going to happen but I am cool with that. I am going to be a better goalie and a better person from that.”
As for the Panthers’ magical run to the Stanley Cup Final, Knight said he “watched a little bit and it was one of those things that was really cool to see.”
Knight said he noticed how fans continued to shout his last name during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.
Although some fans shied away from shouting ‘Knight!’ during the Final because that’s what Vegas Golden Knight fans do, others were vocal in their defense of continuing to do it to support their absent goalie wherever he was at the time.
“I think it speaks to the fans we have here,” he said. “They are very passionate and they are very supportive. One thing I have noticed is that every time you meet one of them outside the rink or maybe after a game, they are very respectful. They may want a picture or a autograph, but they say please and thank you and are just great people.
“That’s one of the things I have enjoyed about playing here is that they respect you as a person and as a player as well. It’s so much fun playing in front of them.”
PANTHERS DEVELOPMENT CAMP SCHEDULE
(Open to the public at Coral Springs IceDen)
- Thursday: Group B 9:30-10:30; Group A 10:45-11:45
- Friday: Group A vs. Group B 10-11
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
- Now: Free agency period is open
- Today-Friday: Development camp, Coral Springs
- Mid-September: Training Camp, South Florida
- Sept. 25: Preseason starts; Doubleheader v. Nashville @ Sunrise
- Oct. 7: Preseason ends; v. Tampa Bay Lightning @ Sunrise
- Oct. 12: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season at Minnesota Wild
- Oct. 19: 2023-24 Home Opener vs. Toronto Maple Leafs