Monday was the first day of school for most youngsters in South Florida.
That means hockey season isn’t far away.
The Panthers hold training camp later next month and the team’s training facility in Coral Springs was open for business Monday morning.
More than 20 players were on the ice for an informal workout led by former Florida winger Marco Sturm — who now coaches with the Jr. Panthers and is also the new coach of the German national team.
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These practices are a great way for players to get in game shape before training camps open in the coming weeks.
Although there were plenty of shooting and passing drills, getting ones skating legs back is the main goal.
The Panthers’ first practice of training camp is Sept. 18, with their first preseason games two days later in Nashville.
Because of the abbreviated schedule, players know training camp is no longer a time to get into shape. They need to be ready to go once the first whistle blows.
“I wish the season didn’t end because then you wouldn’t have to go through all this,’’ Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said with a grin.
“It’s tough to get back into shape, get back to skating. Once you get going, it’s fun again. Right now, though, it’s tough. I’ve been working out but I haven’t been skating. My goal, now, is to lose a few pounds so I’m lighter, quicker and have more endurance. I know with the new overtime rules, I need to be fresh to give us an advantage.’’
Monday’s workouts included current Panthers such as Kulikov, Roberto Luongo, Derek MacKenzie and newcomer Reilly Smith.
Luongo, as is his custom, works out earlier in the morning with just a few players — including former Florida forward Radek Dvorak — taking part in his session.
A number of NHL players who make their offseason homes in South Florida took part in the main workout, including Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson and Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk and Andrei Markov.
The informal sessions will continue through the start of training camp with more and more members of the Panthers joining as camp gets closer.
Players such as Anderson will eventually head north to join their teammates in preparation for their camps.
“To be honest, this is the worst time of the year,’’ Luongo said. “Not only are we skating now, but you’re still going to gym, working out every day. It’s a lot of work. August is the toughest month because you’re doing so much. It lends for some pretty long days. The fun part is being on the ice, knowing it’s getting close. But I think this month is more important than training camp because of the work being put in.’’
Other skaters taking advantage of the group setting included college, junior and minor league players such as former Florida forward Nick Tarnasky and defenseman Jaycob Megna, a Plantation native who plays in the Anaheim organization.
“It’s tough, in a way, because we’re trying to get back to feeling like ourselves,’’ MacKenzie said.
“We have three weeks until our first scrimmage and it’s tough to simulate game situations. Time gets a little long. We’re ready to get back at it. It’s time to get ready.’’
Smith is one of the few new faces on the Panthers this season and arrived in town earlier than many of his teammates.
Acquired in a deal with Boston in July, Smith flew in on Sunday and was in the team locker room for the first time Monday morning.
Getting to town early should help Smith acclimate himself not only his new teammates, but get used to the area he’ll call home as well.
“It’s good to come in here and get a practice in,’’ said Smith, who was traded for Jimmy Hayes.
“This seems like a nice place. This has been a good transition. I planned on going to Boston early and then I got traded. So I’m excited to be down here, be on the ice and see some new faces.’’
The most productive work of the day came from the two goalies on the ice.
Anderson and Parkland’s Matt Greenfield saw plenty of pucks during the hour-plus workout — which was just fine with the former student at nearby Stoneman Douglas High School.
“I’m sure Anderson wasn’t too happy,’’ Greenfield, 20, said. “But it was good for me.’’
Greenfield was joined on the ice by Davie’s Mason Kohn, who was a teammate of Greenfield’s with the Kitchner Rangers last year — the Canadian junior team now coached by former Panthers defenseman Mike Van Ryn.
Greenfield, who will play for Nebraska’s Tri-City Storm in the USHL junior league this season, said being tested by NHL players so close to home should benefit him as he prepares for his upcoming season.
“You grow up watching these guys so it’s really cool to come out here and play with them,’’ Greenfield said. “I saw a lot of shots out there that are better than what I will probably see later on. It really should help me ease into my camp. I won’t be seeing 30-goal NHL scorers after this.’’