In a few days, two members of the Panthers will pack up their equipment and fly thousands of miles from South Florida.
Although many of their teammates will spend the upcoming break on a beach or visiting family up north, Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky will continue playing hockey.
In Russia. At the Olympics.
Im going to enjoy this as if it were my first Olympics, said Kopecky, making his second run with Slovakia after competing in the 2010 Vancouver Games. Slovakia lost to Canada in the semifinals and to Finland in the bronze-medal game.
We have a great group of guys, and Im excited to see some other events if I have the time. You focus on hockey, but you need to get your minds off things during the off time. Im excited to go. It should be fun.
Barkov is no stranger to international competition, but for the 18-year-old center this will be his biggest stage yet.
A two-time member of Finlands world junior team, Barkov wasnt considered a favorite to land a spot on his national team until a hot streak just prior to the selection announcement.
Barkov, the second overall pick of last years draft, said he has been concentrating on the Panthers but that he cant wait to go to the Olympics. Barkov grew up in Finland to Russian parents who hail from the Moscow area.
These are my first Olympics, so Im 100 percent excited no matter where they are, Barkov said. I was happy to hear [about being selected] and a little surprised about it.
The two players wont be the only ones with Florida ties in Sochi. Former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen and goalie Roberto Luongo, who spend their offseasons in Broward County, will represent Finland and Canada, respectively.
TV voice Steve Goldstein is also making the trip. He will do radio play-by-play alongside former Florida defenseman Bret Hedican for Westwood One Radio.
Although local stations arent picking up the hockey games, they can be heard on SiriusXM satellite radio.
The games are going to be awesome, said Goldstein, who worked his first of four Olympics in 1994 at Lillehammer, Norway.
Im really looking forward to Feb. 15 in particular when the United States plays Russia in Russia. Thats something historical I get to do. Theres so much history there. Itll be nice being somewhere Ive never been.
Although there have been well-publicized concerns about security and readiness of the Games, Goldstein and Kopecky say they cant wait to get there. Goldstein said Westwood One already had staffers in Sochi, and they were pleased with how things were running.
Our hotel is done and within walking distance of the hockey arena and broadcast center, said Goldstein, who will make the 25-hour trip Saturday.
And the weather is the kind we love here in South Florida. Its 50, 55 degrees. You can wear shorts at the Winter Olympics.
Kopecky said he has seen some of the images coming out of Sochi and smiled when he mentioned the infamous bathroom shot as well as the three single beds that some players from Team Canada will share. The Ritz-Carlton this isnt.
Vancouver was nice because there was a language there you spoke, Kopecky said. Sochi will be different. You see the picture of the two toilets together, thats something youve never seen. But were going there to play hockey. Security is really high. Thats good.
• The team has renamed and has plans on rebranding its training facility in Coral Springs as the Florida Panthers IceDen. The name change is effective immediately.