CORAL SPRINGS — Zac Dalpe had missed the past couple days of practice with the Florida Panthers but, with the team heading to Carolina for a preseason game Saturday, the veteran center was back on the ice.
This is a game he does not want to miss.
”I didn’t really participate in the hard days of camp, had kind of a fluke little injury the week before,’’ Dalpe said. “But I feel good now, I am fresh and ready. No excuses. I’m going to go hard. I started my career with Carolina and it’s always nice to go back there.’’
Dalpe has made North Carolina his home having started his professional career in 2010 with the Charlotte Checkers following two seasons at Ohio State.
Last year, Dalpe was reunited with former Columbus assistant general manager Bill Zito when he signed with the Panthers.
It also marked a return to Charlotte where he spent part of three seasons.
Geordie Kinnear, coach of the Checkers, was an assistant in Charlotte during Dalpe’s early years there and named him captain of the team.
“Easy decision,” Kinnear said last year. “We’re looking for a guy who brings everyone close together as a family and Zac’s the guy. He’s a natural leader. He sticks out, he brings energy every single day to the rink and leads by example.”
Although Dalpe continues to chase his NHL dream at 32, making a life for him and his family in Charlotte with the Checkers is not a bad alternative.
“It does feel like home,” said Dalpe, who has played in 154 NHL games with the Hurricanes, Canucks, Sabres, Wild, Blue Jackets and one game with Florida last season.
“Listen, you want to be in the NHL. But it is great to be in Charlotte. My kids are in school there, my wife loves it. It has been a fun ride, a full-circle return.
“It’s home now. There is a family aspect there. A lot of the people with the Checkers were there when I was first there. There are so many familiar faces. And I am kind of a Carolina-livin’ kind of guy. There is fall weather in the winter and we escape the summer heat by going to Canada. It’s great.”
Florida coach Paul Maurice will be running a much younger lineup in Carolina today than the Panthers rolled out in Thursday’s home loss to the Hurricanes.
A good number of players who board the flight to Raleigh this morning will not be coming back as the Checkers get ready to start training camp of their own in Charlotte.
Dalpe is expected to be one of them.
Connor Bunnaman, who came to Florida in the Claude Giroux deal with Philadelphia last spring, was the first player to be placed on waivers by the Panthers on Friday.
If he clears today, he is expected to be assigned to the Checkers.
Florida has also assigned Henry Bowlby, Calle Sjalin, Nathan Staios, Zachary Uens as well as goalies J-F Berube and Evan Fitzpatrick to the Checkers.
More will likely come following Saturday’s game.
But with one more game with the Panthers this afternoon, a lot of players are looking to make that last impression on the Florida coaching staff.
Dalpe, who played for Maurice before, wants to keep his name in the running if the Panthers need him.
“You just have to stay ready,” Dalpe said. “It is so simple to say that, but even at this point in my career, I know that you have to be at the top of your game at all times because you never know.”
As for Dalpe, the Panthers only have a couple of roster spots available and the expectation coming into camp was Dalpe would offer a push — but likely start things off in Charlotte.
The Panthers love having a veteran player they trust leading their younger players and, if needed, he is only a short flight away.
”What is really comforting is watching that practice today. He is coming off an injury and was just flying,” Maurice said.
“He is a good pro, understands what to do. You can fit him into your practice, get him into games. He’s a good organizational man. When you get into the playoffs, you can call him up and he will play his finest hockey for you.
”He is living a completely wonderful life for him and his family. He’s a great charachter guy and is great for us have for the young guys who come in. Those are the guys who end up working for the organization because they are already working for the organization, right? They are helping the kids, doing all the right things and love the game.”
— The Panthers will only have four regular NHL players — Eetu Luostarinen, Ryan Lomberg, Rudolfs Balcers and Spencer Knight — in the lineup for today’s game.
Anton Levtchi, Grigori Denisenko, Aleksi Heponiemi, Chris Tierney and Matt Kiersted are among those battling for one of the final roster spots.
FLORIDA PANTHERS PRESEASON
Florida Panthers (1-2) at Carolina Hurricanes (2-0)
Where, When: PNC Arena, Raleigh; 1 p.m.