SUNRISE — For the first time in seven months, Spencer Knight took the ice for the Florida Panthers on Monday afternoon.
Although it was just a preseason game — and the first one, to boot — Knight completely shut down a Nashville Predators team which chased him after scoring two goals on 14 shots in his previous NHL appearance on Feb. 18.
On Monday, Knight stopped all 13 shots he faced and helped the Florida Panthers to a 5-0 win in Game 1 of a preseason doubleheader.
After a summer where Knight stepped up and addressed his struggles with OCD which led to him entering the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program on Feb. 24, he clearly looked like himself on Monday.
He opened up to Ken Cambell of the Hockey News about his struggles before training camp opened and has become more and more comfortable as he has received support from all over the hockey world.
“There is nothing to hide,” Knight said.
“I think I will become a better person and player from it and hopefully there is someone out there who will hear my story and hopefully it helps them, too.”
After putting in the work during the offseason to stay both mentally and physically strong, those around him have seen that work come to fruition and are inspired by it.
“He looks stronger physically and it looks like he is enjoying being on the ice,” coach Paul Maurice said.
“It takes a tremendous amount of courage for a young man to ask for help and to also know the amount of work he would have put in when almost nobody else knew. There were not a lot of signs around him for us to figure that out, so it was great that he got it defined and he got professional help to manage it.
“He looks like Spencer Knight, so good for him.”
When Knight took the ice throughout the week, he felt the support of his teammates and his fans.
Fans lined up the glass at each of Florida’s four training camp practices with signs welcoming him back and telling him how much of an inspiration he is to them.
“The fans have always been so supportive and so passionate,” Knight said.
“Every time I interact with them, they are just awesome. It was great coming back and seeing them.”
His teammates showed the same support as well.
“It’s great to see him,” Sergei Bobrovsky said.
“Everybody is happy to see him on the ice. The team, the fans and me included. It’s great to have him back and I want to continue to support him and learn from him.”
When Knight finally took the ice on Monday, hearing the fans chant his name during the national anthem as they have done throughout his tenure with the Panthers, he was ready to go.
“It was good to get back into game action,” Knight said.
“I think after a while, practices get repetitive and you need to play competitive games to actually get a feel. I think practice is good to develop skills and habits, and to work hard. But game action is where you really get better so it was good.”
From the moment the puck dropped, all of the work Knight put in during training camp seemed to have paid off.
Knight was tested right away with a breakaway from Fedor Svechkov and he shut the door with a big pad save.
“I think that is where you rely on the habits you have built,” Knight said.
“When it comes game time and it comes at you, you just do your best.”
While the Panthers played a steady game in front of him — one where they spent a lot of time on the power play what with 10 Nashville penalties — Knight came up with a save every time he was asked to before he was taken out with 10:45 to go in the second period.
“After all of these years, it just kind of is what it is,” Knight said.
“That is the mindset I am trying to develop is that through the good and the bad, I have to remain level-headed and I think that is something I will carry with me to another level when I have to play more and more games because the more nights you play, the more nights you have to move onto the next one.”
Knight only wants to continue to build on his game but his story can be one that other people can refer to when times get tough.
“It’s a great lesson for young people to ask for help at times when it looks like you think things couldn’t ever get better,” Maurice said. “Because things can get better.’’
“He is going to be a good role model for a lot of people.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
PRESEASON AT CAROLINA HURRICANES
- When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: PNC Bank Arena, Raleigh
- TV/Radio: None
- Streaming: FloridaPanthers.com
LOOKING AHEAD FOR THE PANTHERS
- Friday: Preseason vs. Carolina, 6 p.m.
- Sunday: Preseason vs. Ottawa at Sydney, Nova Scotia; 4 p.m.
- Oct. 3: Preseason vs. Tampa Bay at Orlando Arena, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 5: Preseason at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 7: Preseason vs. Tampa Bay, 6 p.m.
- Oct. 12: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season at Minnesota Wild (BSF)
- Oct. 19: 2023-24 Home Opener vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (BSF)