Panther rookies spend week on the Ranch
The sign at the entrance to Teen Ranch, on Highway 10, south of Orangeville, welcomes the Florida Panthers to the Ice Coral and for 18 NHL wanna-be's, the sign may be seen as a beacon of things to come.
A development camp put on by the Panthers, is underway at the ranch, for players who have already been recruited and signed by the team in previous junior drafts. From this crop of young hopefuls, the coaching staff hopes the next generation of Panther players will emerge.
"It's a chance to get started on some team building and refine the skills from the selection in the last draft," said Duane Sutter director of player development for the team.
The goals of the camp include; on and off ice training, team building, nutrition advice and allowing both the players and coaches to get acquainted.
The players are between the age of 18 and 23 years old and have spent the last season playing either in junior hockey or with an affiliated pro team in the AHL or ECHL, waiting for their chance to make the grade, knowing they have already jumped the first hurdle by being drafted.
This type of camp is a typical process for each NHL team. The Florida Panthers, who normally play in Sunrise Florida, a suburb or Fort Lauderdale/ Miami, has selected Teen Ranch, for the last two years, as its development camp location.
"These facilities are very unique and work well for us," says Sutter. "The entire team is in one spot for both housing and training."
The beginning of June is also a good choice for the team because Sutter explains, "The boys have been finished playing (in their other leagues) for a while) and it's a good chance to get them back , thinking hockey."
For seven days the 16 players and two goal-tenders are put through their paces both on and off the ice.
"It's a chance to work one on one with skills coaches, refining their skills and tweaking abilities."
Sutter, having had several positions with the Florida franchise, including head coach is in his third year developing the next generation of Panther hopefuls.
He admits the players, because they have normally been considered "the best" during their formative years in hockey, need to be reconditioned mentally as well agreeing the transition is like the analogy of going from a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond.
"Some players haven't been on the ice with others with as much skill or better and that can be a learning experience as well."
These camps which use to be nine days in duration, were cut to seven as part of the collective bargaining agreement reached last year between the NHLPA and league.
The pathway into the NHL has moved past traditional scouting and Sutter acknowledges things have changed since he was recruited.
Selected for the New York Islanders from the Lethbridge Broncos, in 1979, the same year the Islanders won the Stanley Cup, Sutter has a lot of experience to impart to the new recruits.
He considers the development program to be a way of introducing the new players to the team, whether they make the roster or not.
"When I was signed, this type of camp didn't exist, team building is a huge part of this camp," he says. "For the players that make it to the Panthers, they will know a face or two in the dressing room and maybe already feel like part of the team."
Asked what part of his NHL experience he has enjoyed the most, player, coach or developing new players, Sutter admits the development is his choice.
"Player development is always something different," he says. "This is what I want to be doing."
At the end of the camp, each of the players will take away with them a nutrition and conditioning regime to follow through the summer and into the coming season.
For most, that will be be with the teams they have come from or for a select few, into the teams regular training camp later this summer..