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Florida Panthers getting ready to pick up the pace

Coaches and players love to espouse whatever success or failure happens early in a hockey season can be overcome or overtaken.

“It’s a marathon,” they’ll say, “not a sprint.”

No one will say that this year.

When the Panthers — and the other 29 teams in the NHL — report for the start of training camp Sunday morning, they might as well be wearing a pair of Usain Bolt’s used Pumas.

This thing is going to go fast.

“It’s going to go by very, very quickly,” Panthers goalie Jose Theodore said.

“It seems like forever since we’ve been here, but at the same time, it feels like yesterday. All those months are gone. And the season is going to be like that. It’s great to go back to work. You can feel the intensity picking up around here.”

With the NHL lockout lasting four-plus months, there isn’t much of a season left as the league will play 48 games instead of its usual 82.

Teams will open the 2012-13 season Saturday — a week before the originally scheduled All-Star break. That celebration, which was to be held in Columbus, Ohio, was canceled months ago.

Even preseason games have been shelved this year.

“Experience is going to play a big role,” Theodore said. “We have a lot of veterans, so we should be OK. Preseason is good to have, but it’s not the real thing. What you are going to see is five very intense days of practice, and we’re going to be ready to play.”

The Panthers will hold physicals at the Iceplex in Coral Springs on Sunday morning with the possibility for a short practice at noon.

The team is expected to hold a training camp with workouts and scrimmages from Monday through Friday starting at 10 a.m. each day.

Florida kicks off its 48-game slate Saturday at BB&T Center in Sunrise against visiting Carolina.

“We’re going to be asking a lot of these guys in a shortened season,” said coach Kevin Dineen, who played for Hartford during the previous 48-game season in 1994.

“Every game is going to have a playoff-like atmosphere. You’re going to hear that a lot and that’s because it’s true. Things are going to come fast and furious. Everyone talks about how important that start is. I believe that. It’s going to be a very entertaining season.”

When the Panthers opened camp last year, there were more new faces than old. General manager Dale Tallon revamped Florida’s roster and had a new coach and system after firing Pete DeBoer and brining in Dineen.

One advantage the Panthers have in this shotgun season is their familiarity with one another. Florida will have a few new faces — Peter Mueller, George Parros and Filip Kuba — but the core of last year’s Southeast Division championship team returns.

“We have most of our team back and the additions we made were great,” center Shawn Matthias said. “I think we have a really good team here. We’re all excited to get going. It’s going to be a sprint from start to finish.”

Florida’s top line of Stephen Weiss with Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg returns intact. Rookie Jonathan Huberdeau will be added to the forward mix this season, likely playing on the second line.

The Panthers bring back both goalies from last year and will replace Jason Garrison (Vancouver) on the blueline with Kuba (Ottawa).

Florida will have a handful of roster battles, but Huberdeau is a lock to make it.

Veterans Alex Kovalev and Marek Svatos are in on a tryout and might find openings with forwards Marcel Goc and Sean Bergenheim expected to miss the start of the season because of undisclosed injuries.

Dineen will likely carry the full 23 players on his roster to make it easier to substitute players during the many upcoming back-to-back sets of games.

“We’re going to have a real quick transition,” said Brian Campbell, Florida’s lone All-Star selection last season after coming over from Chicago.

“With a short training camp, having the same players and coaches is an advantage for us.

“We know the system. We know what to expect. Nothing is new.”

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