Going outside: Panthers training camp has distancing in mind

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — To try and combat the coronavirus, the Florida Panthers hope a balmy climate can work to their advantage.

The Panthers are turning rooftops, balconies and other outdoor areas at the arena where it plays games into weight rooms and meeting spaces this season, with final touches getting done this weekend in advance of the team’s first on-ice workout of training camp on Monday.

It makes perfect sense in South Florida, where the temperature was 81 on Saturday afternoon — compared with, say, 20 degrees in Minneapolis, 26 degrees in Winnipeg, 27 in Montreal, 33 in Edmonton and 35 in Toronto. Social distancing will still be required for the Panthers and there are strict league protocols to follow, but the team believes the outdoor component will work.

“We’re distancing anybody and everybody as much as we can, being as prudent as we can with our spacing and pursuing some pretty novel concepts,” Panthers general manager Bill Zito said. “Our weight room will be outdoors, which is kind of neat. I think our players will enjoy that. We’re going to have meetings and meals outside, whenever and wherever possible. Our coaches’ meetings will be outside, whenever possible.”

Another major change: Gone, for now anyway, are the days where the Panthers would typically practice in one facility and play their home games in another. The entirety of Panthers’ camp will be at BB&T Center, the arena in Sunrise where they play games, instead of their practice facility located about 10 miles north in Coral Springs. The reason: the team thinks it’ll be safer to have its operation in just one building, and many of the arena spaces are larger than ones at the practice facility.

“I think it was simpler than you think,” Zito said. “A lot of factors all weighed in, but it was rather simple. Rather than have two facilities and go back and forth, without a significant reason to utilize two, we can just use one.”

Some of the equipment will remain outside when not in use in areas where the Panthers can protect it from severe weather. Other equipment can be wheeled outside when necessary and wheeled back in when not in use.

“It’s going to be pretty fun,” Zito said.

Florida’s practice facility has multiple rinks and the arena does not, but with a smaller camp roster this year Zito doesn’t think that will be a major issue. Past workouts at the practice facility have also been open to fans, who can sit just a couple of feet from the ice surface and clamor for autographs as players wrap up their sessions. No fans will be permitted at camp this year, though the team does intend to have a limited number of ticketholders in the arena for games.

The Panthers haven’t said how many fans will be allowed in for the home opener against Dallas on Jan. 14. Some arenas won’t have any fans, and Zito thinks Florida will get a boost from at least having some bodies in the building.

“At least for our group, it will make a difference and it will help them,” Zito said.

The Panthers are slated to go into camp with 39 players — 21 forwards, 13 defensemen and five goaltenders. Of those 39 players, 13 spent time with Florida last season, in which the Panthers were eliminated in the qualifying round that preceded the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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