Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 1/10/13
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. As Thursday mornings informal skate by Florida Panthers players concluded, free agent Alexei Kovalev stepped off the ice to give his stick to a female fan in a wheelchair.It was a nice gesture that rewarded one Panthers fan for returning to support her favorite team immediately after the NHL lockout. I was disappointed in the lockout, even mad at times, but I love the game and players too much to not give them a second chance, said the fan, Jen Babicz, who also had her jersey signed by right wing Kris Versteeg. I believe the players and owners apologies. Its time for the game to continue to grow. Just happy to have hockey back.But what will it take to re-engage the many fans who remain angry that more than three months of the NHL season have been lost?I cant speak for them, I know we have a lot of work to do, Panthers executive vice presidentgeneral manager Dale Tallon said. We can only focus on what our jobs are. Our task at hand is to put the best possible team on the ice, win some games and play hard and thats what were going to do.It may take a little while but certainly with the quality of people we have, that makes a difference, Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. And at the end, its what you see on the ice. I feel we play an entertaining game and I think were an easy team to like. I think our fans really connected with us last year and Im hoping that helps us re-establish a relationship.Tallon and Dineen watched as approximately 12 players skated at the teams training facility. The workouts will be informal until the NHL Players Association ratifies the labor agreement with the league. Thats expected Saturday with camp officially opening Sunday.Teams will play no preseason games before an intense 48-game in-conference schedule begins Jan. 19.Everyones starting at the same time, there are no excuses we have to be ready, forward Shawn Matthias said. Its going to show pretty quickly who did the work while we were off. If you took any weeks off, or thought it was a good time to slack, its going to show in the 48 games.Thats not to say players who remained in playing shape simply will pick up where they left off.Theyll be some pretty sloppy playoff hockey right at the start of the season, Versteeg said, because it's going to be battling for points all the way in.Dineen played for the Philadelphia Flyers when the 1994-95 lockout ended on Jan. 11 and resulted in a similarly condensed schedule. He said as a coach, hell use a few things learned during that experience.First, to be cautious and respectful that were going to be asking a lot of these guys in a shortened period, Dineen said. (Then) to know every game is going to be a playoff-type atmosphere. Things are going to happen fast and furious.The Panthers are coming off a season in which they captured their first division title in franchise history. Their playoff run ended in a double-overtime Game 7 during a first-round series against the New Jersey Devils.Florida should contend again for the Southeast Division crown. It will get very familiar with division rivals, playing Carolina, Tampa Bay, Washington and Winnipeg four or five times apiece.Veterans Kovalev, Andrei Kostitsyn and Marek Svatos have been invited to camp in hopes of giving the Panthers some desired goal-scoring ability.Once the puck drops, the Panthers certainly could use the fan support enjoyed during the last postseason.You say youre sorry, Matthias said, and the way you show youre sorry is by going on the ice every night, and putting 150 percent effort into every shift and showing them that you care, and care about this team and this city.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

DeMarcus Cousins traded to Pelicans for players, picks

West teammates hilariously celebrate Durant and Westbrook oop

Report: Romo willing to rework contract to facilitate trade

Lonzo Ball's father says son is better than Curry right now

Report: Rams could have interest in Cousins if Goff flops

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Mike Trout talks about 'frustrating' struggles of Angels

Report: Butler to Celtics talk will loom over All-Star week

Report: Carmelo expects to remain with Knicks

James Harden: ‘For sure’ I’m the best player in the world

Report: Pats expected to make good effort to keep Bennett

Glenn Robinson III dunks over three people to win Slam Dunk Contest

Is the NBA All-Star Game worth saving?

There will never be another Dirk Nowitzki

The Rewind: Michael Jordan's last All-Star Game

Best of Yardbarker: NBA All-Star Games past, present and future

Eat, Drink, Watch: Everything goes better with a side of New Orleans

Box Score 2/17: Happy birthday, Michael Jordan (and welcome to 1000 point club, Sid!)

The 'Michael Jordan might still win the Dunk contest if he entered' quiz

How to reboot NBA All-Star Weekend

Second-year NBA stars who can salvage the season

Observations from a day at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Box Score 2/16: Getting ready for the ASG

Too much to Process: Can Simmons match the Embiid hype?

NHL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Best of YB: NBA All-Star Games past, present and future

Who will break these NBA All-Star Game records?

Is the NBA All-Star Game worth saving?

There will never be another Dirk Nowitzki

The Rewind: Michael Jordan's last All-Star Game

Eat, Drink, Watch: Everything goes better with a side of New Orleans

How to reboot NBA All-Star Weekend

Baseball movies you can stream now to hold you over until Opening Day

Second-year NBA stars who can salvage the season

Observations from a day at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker