Over an hour before he would come onto the ice to run his first morning skate as coach of the Florida Panthers, Tom Rowe sat behind a computer watching video and taking notes.
With all that has happened with the Panthers since losing in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Sunday night it’s easy to forget they had a big game to prepare for.
The Panthers play the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Tuesday night (8:30, FSFL) with Rowe making his NHL coaching debut after Florida fired coach Gerard Gallant two days before.
“Gerard Gallant, first, is a great human being, a really good guy. The other day was brutal on everyone,” Rowe said. “The players really liked him, respected him. I came in and told them we weren’t going to change a whole lot, maybe a few things.”
Rowe, the Panthers’ general manager since May, said he “didn’t want to overload” his team with “too much information” on his first day as they prepared to play the Blackhawks in their first game back from a long road trip.
“A lot of times we’re going to concern ourselves with our team more than the opponent,” said Rowe, who, before Tuesday, had not led a team in a practice since leaving the AHL Portland Pirates to become Florida’s associate general manager in December.
“We know Chicago is a great team, we know what they can do and our guys are well aware of their key players. I think we have a real good game plan; at the end of the day, we just have to go out there and play.”
Florida’s pregame practice Tuesday didn’t look much different than any other they have held over the years.
Goalie Roberto Luongo was first on the ice alongside coach Robb Tallas as they usually are with players trickling onto the ice.
Rowe was one of the last to come onto the United Center surface, taking a number of warmup laps as he hasn’t been on skates in almost a year.
"I may go out there early just in case," Rowe joked earlier in the morning.
Although Rowe said the Panthers need to make some changes in their game, they didn’t change up too much on Tuesday. With an off day Monday following Gallant’s firing, Rowe hasn’t had much time to implement much.
Rowe’s first real practice with the team will come Wednesday afternoon at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.
Some of Florida’s initial changes include Jonathan Marchessault returning to the top line with Jussi Jokinen going back to the second.
Seth Griffith, who played on Florida’s fourth line, moved up to the third line with Colton Sceviour moving down.
“At first it was a bit of a shock, but I think the owners have our best interests at heart,” Nick Bjugstad said.
“They want us to be the best we can be. They felt a change was needed. A lot of guys who have been in the minors have played for Tom Rowe, so it won’t be too much of an adjustment. I don’t think there will be dramatic changes, just tweaking some things.”
While the Panthers went about their business on the ice Tuesday morning, there was still an odd feeling around the team in the aftermath of Sunday night’s coaching upheaval.
Vincent Trocheck, who is one of a handful of Florida players who played for Rowe in the AHL over the years, said players understand their coach wouldn’t have been fired had the team played more consistently and had a better record.
“We need to pull it together,” Trocheck said. “We have to realize we haven’t played our best hockey and things have to change on the ice.”
Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell, who spent the past five seasons with the Panthers, said he was shocked to hear of Gallant’s firing and said he thought Gallant did a great job coaching the team.
“I did not see that coming; I was shocked,” said Campbell, who came to the Panthers in a 2011 trade with the Blackhawks and returned to Chicago on July 1 as a free agent.
“I didn’t know it was that bad of a situation and if you’re firing someone, it must be a bad situation. I really liked Gerard, thought he was a good coach, was really fair.
“He did some good things with that organization last year. I didn’t think their start was that bad. I was pretty shocked.”
Trocheck said the team was told of Gallant’s firing inside their locker room at PNC Arena in Raleigh before loading the bus for their ride to the airport.
On Monday, Rowe met with a number of veteran players to explain the rationale behind the move.
“It has obviously been a very difficult 48 hours for us,” captain Derek MacKenzie said. “I think it says a lot about the guys in this room; in talking to them, we all feel responsible for what went on. We need to be better; we will be starting today.”
Said Rowe: “When you have professional athletes like we have here, if you don’t go in and give them an explanation on why certain things happened, it just shows a sign of ignorance. This is a tremendous locker room, great people who are family guys. I think that’s how you have to operate.
“If you don’t communicate, you’re not going to last long in this business.”
Tuesday: Panthers at Blackhawks
When/where: 8:30 p.m.; United Center, Chicago.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.
Series: Chicago leads 20-10-3.
Scouting report: Kevin Dineen, the previous coach fired by the Panthers during midseason (2013), is an assistant coach with the Blackhawks. Florida hasn’t won in Chicago since 2009 — a run of five consecutive losses.