Olli Jokinen may have been traded away by the Panthers, but he never really left South Florida.
Same, too, goes for Tomas Vokoun and Radek Dvorak.
Although their playing days are done, those three former Panthers remain on the ice as part of the new South Florida Hockey Academy run out of the Panthers' original training facility at Glacier Ice in Lighthouse Point.
Although the academy will be a year-round hockey school for young players, Jokinen and his crew are currently getting a handful of current NHL players ready for their upcoming training camps.
As NHL training camps get closer and closer, the SFHA has set up a professional training regimen players such as new Florida defenseman Keith Yandle and recently traded Panthers Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov have been using.
"When I played, I was the guy who organized the [offseason] practices, got the ice, hired the coaches so it kind of started there,'' Jokinen said. "When I played, something like this was what was missing here in town. It’s one thing to go out and skate around with your friends. It’s another to have real practices and be ready.''
Not only are those players working their skills on the ice, but there's a daily intensive off-ice workout as well.
NHL players and the younger players in the academy -- which includes Miami phenom Randy Hernandez -- run sprints, roll giant truck tires and push a loaded down pickup truck around the lot before coming inside for another hour of work on core strength, cardio and flexibility. There’s even boxing camp once a week.
“These guys are going to be ready when training camp starts, that’s for sure,” Jokinen said. “With the pro guys, the competition gets harder and harder each year so you better be ready to go on Day 1. With this camp, you get it all in one place, one building. We have everything the pro guy wants right here. It’s the same setup as we have during the season.”
Players who sign up for the pro camp leave their gear on site, have former NHL medical trainer Jim Pizzutelli there to work out all sorts of cramps with NHL locker room attendant Oscar 'Chunky' Manguia doing everything else.
While summer camps like this are commonplace in hockey hotbeds such as Toronto, Minnesota and Boston, this setup is a first in South Florida.
The Panthers’ IceDen in Coral Springs also has NHL players working out, but those workouts are usually loosely run by a player — as Jokinen said he used to.
"What they have going here is phenomenal, they’ve created an excellent program,'' said Gudbranson, traded to Vancouver by the Panthers in June. "This is a professional hockey camp and I hope the kids who are here realize what they have here and what’s being done for them. They have everything at their fingertips. You don’t find that much, really.''
Said Kampfer: “This is a great, they run a grade-A school here to get us ready. They’re working us hard to make sure we’re ready when training camp opens. These guys know what they’re doing. You don’t play in the league as long as they had without knowing how to train yourself properly.”
In what Jokinen calls a "one-stop shop" for hockey, the academy was created to help youth hockey in the area.
This year, the SFHA will have its first ‘squirt’ team of players aged 10 and younger which will be coached by Dvorak and former NHL winger Petr Sykora.
The plan is for teams to be added each year, with Jokinen and Vokoun coaching the under-16 team which starts in 2017. By 2018, the academy plans to have a full compliment of junior teams.
“As a academy, we’re offering youth players a place to get ice, to train properly on and off the ice,’’ Jokinen said. “We’re starting with one team this year, then we’re going to add each year.’’
Although Jokinen’s last NHL season came in 2014-15 with the Maple Leafs and Blues, he stays in hockey shape not only by skating every day but taking part in all the workouts — well, he doesn’t push the truck — his athletes do.
Still the Panthers’ all-time leading scorer, Jokinen is trying to make the academy so successful that young hockey players from South Florida don’t need to leave town to continue their hockey career.
“I think you’re really seeing the growth of South Florida hockey programs and you only need to look right here,” Gudbranson said. “There’s so much excitement around hockey down here now. Hopefully it keeps growing and growing. You see these kids from here moving on and doing well. The young guys we’ve been skating with have kept the pro guys in check.”
Local players at the SFHA summer camp such as Hernandez (who is part of the U.S. National Team development program in Michigan), Parkland’s Andrew Peeke (a second-round pick of the Blue Jackets in June) and Coral Springs’ Brandon Duhaime (a fourth-round pick of the Wild) all left home to attend school and play competitive hockey elsewhere.
Jokinen would like to keep everyone home.
“With our program, kids won’t have to leave when they get to be 14 or 15 years old,’’ he said. “We don’t want them to leave here so they can get to college. The kids can be raised by their parents and play high-level hockey. Although we’re about hockey, the most important thing is education. We want all of our kids to get good grades, graduate from high school and go to college. That’s the biggest thing.’’