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Panthers laugh off travel delays, 'bonding time'

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Published in Hockey
Thursday, 13 June 2024 14:25

EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Florida Panthers did in fact make it to Edmonton on Wednesday after travel delays, and they were rather amused with all the concern ahead of Thursday's Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

"It's just so funny how everything gets so magnified in the Cup finals," Panthers forward Kyle Okposo said during Thursday morning's skate. "This happens four times a year to every team in the regular season and nobody says anything. And now it's like, 'Oh my God, they're not going to be able to play!'"

Torrential rain in South Florida on Wednesday caused massive flooding and significant travel delays, including the Panthers' charter flight to Edmonton, which was delayed for a few hours. Fans and media were tracking the flight online to see when it could get to Edmonton. It landed in the 8 p.m. hour locally -- about two hours after the team was scheduled to do interviews at the Edmonton Oilers' arena.

"I think we always knew we would get out at some point, whether we got in at 2 in the morning or whatever. We were going to get here," Okposo said. "Everybody was just kind of having fun with it, honestly."

Unbeknownst to players, even the Edmonton air traffic controllers were getting in on the fun. One jokingly told the pilots of the Panthers' charter that there would be a "two-hour hold or whatever it would take for you to be low enough in fuel to have to divert from Edmonton."

Rather than immediately fly to Edmonton after Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night, the Panthers opted to remain in South Florida -- despite weather forecasts that predicted significant rain for Wednesday.

"We pay a bunch of really smart people to have better answers than we do," Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. "This is the way we do it, and there are reasons for it, and I'm 100% good with it. At no point when a guy gets a cold do they come to see me on how they should fix it.

"We spent an hour at our rink, a little longer. We sat there, and our chef is unbelievable. The coaches put on 7 pounds yesterday. That's the only ramification."

Once on the plane, the Panthers spent an extra 90 minutes on the tarmac, Maurice said. The players passed the time as they usually do on trips: watching movies, catching up on sleep and playing cards.

"We love adversity. We got some more team bonding time. It was fun," forward Evan Rodrigues said. "We had some guys go behind the scenes to do things that usually don't [happen] to get us off the ground, and happy to finally take off, obviously.

"It was either we would be sitting on the plane or we were going to get here and go to the lounge and hang out together. So it made no difference for us."

The Panthers, who have a 2-0 lead over the Oilers, said the delay did nothing to interrupt their Game 3 preparations.

"No, not at all," defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. "We got to practice in the morning, and I got like nine hours of sleep last night, so it was great."

Added forward Matthew Tkachuk: "It wasn't that big of a deal, to be completely honest with you. ... I think most guys did something when they got to the hotel: pool, bike, whatever. I mean, it was a long flight. By the time you get to the hotel, you just do that and you go right to bed."

Maurice did acknowledge the severity of the weather in South Florida.

"I'm joking around with that, but there's some people who are struggling right now in Florida with the flooding," he said. "So it's a serious thing that happened there. But our day was not serious."

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