Ed Jovanovski said his biggest fear upon retirement from hockey is losing out on the day-to-day camaraderie of being with teammates, of bonding over road trips, of just general small talk.
“It’s one of those things I worry about when I’m done,’’ he said.
Although he says he plans on playing out his contract and returning to the Panthers next year, Jovanovski says once he does hang up his skates, he hopes to be able to stick around the game in one capacity or another.
And it sounds like Jovanovski wants to stick around the team that made him the first overall pick in 1994.
“At the end of the day, do what you love to do,’’ Jovanovski said. “But it killed me not being around the guys and that’s something that bothers me when it’s all going to be over. … I will do whatever takes off the ice to help a team win. It’s something I love to do. I’ve been in this community so long, I’d love to see this franchise do well. I think the chips are falling in with the new owners. It’s going to be an interesting summer. We’ll see where that unfolds.’’
On Friday, Jovanovski was named the Panthers’ nominee for the annual Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the local chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
The award is given out to the NHL player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.’’ Jovanovski was an obvious candidate.
Few would have attempted to come back and play after what Jovanovski had been through.
Jovanovski, 37, spent countless hours rehabilitating his surgically-repaired hip to return to the ice.
The Panthers’ captain, Jovanovski had radical hip resurfacing surgery — one step away from hip replacement — last spring. He worked his way back by training camp, although he didn’t play in his first game until Jan. 3.
Jovanovski is believed to be the first professional athlete to return from the procedure.
“For the most part I tried to remain as upbeat as I could,’’ Jovanovski said of the lengthy road back.
“There were days in which I said ‘what am I doing. It’s an uphill battle.’ There was no data on this, no one had done this before. When you look at the whole procedure, it’s pretty wild what I have in my body to be doing what I’m doing. It’s great being able to play the game I love.’’
Jovanovski, who has played in 33 games this season, has one year left on the contract he signed when he returned to the Panthers in 2011 and says he plans on honoring it. When asked if it was up to him, he said he would he be at training camp come September.
“It’s going to be a really important summer to concentrate on an 82 game schedule,’’ Jovanovski said. “I have to work hard. When you put your mind to it, anything is a possibility.’’
Bobby Butler played in his first game for the Panthers Friday after sitting out Tuesday’s game against the host Islanders. Butler filled in for Brad Boyes who missed Friday’s game with a sore back.
Butler was called up Tuesday as a probable fill-in, although Boyes decided to play after warmups. His back stiffened, however, and left after one period. Butler played on what is now Florida’s top line, one with Scott Gomez at center and Sean Bergenheim on the left side.
“It stinks to come in and think you’re going to play and then don’t,’’ Butler said. “But it’s part of the job, part of the business. I’m ready to go when they tell me I’m going.’’
This and that
• On Saturday, Jonathan Huberdeau replaced Butler on that line for practice although coach Peter Horachek said he wasn’t certain Huberdeau would play Sunday against the Stars. Huberdeau suffered a concussion against Vancouver last month. Huberdeau would need to be cleared by team doctors.
• With Kari Lehtonen starting for Dallas on Saturday in Tampa, it looks like Tim Thomas will be in net for the Stars against the Panthers on Sunday.
Florida replaced Thomas with Roberto Luongo on March 4 and traded him to Dallas for Dan Ellis the following day.
“I think Timmy was fine. He gave us confidence,’’ Horachek said. “He’s a very aggressive goalie, made big saves. He played in some big games for us. He did everything we asked of him.’’