Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers goalie continues his fight in the minors

Florida goalie Mike McKenna works against Jonathan Marchessault and Richards Bukarts at training camp last Friday.
Florida goalie Mike McKenna works against Jonathan Marchessault and Richards Bukarts at training camp last Friday. pportal@miamiherald.com

Mike McKenna worked hard not to be the odd man out at Florida Panthers training camp.

The Panthers brought in a pair of NHL-tested goalies in James Reimer and Reto Berra this offseason to join up with Roberto Luongo leaving McKenna — Florida's AHL goalie last season — out of the NHL mix.

Although McKenna will start his season with Florida's new AHL affiliate in Springfield, Massachusetts, he wants to make sure the Panthers know he's ready when needed.

On Friday, the Panthers made their initial cuts with McKenna among the first to be sent to minor league camp.

“My approach is always the same; you always have to prove something,” said McKenna, 33, who begins his 12th professional season this year.

“No matter what the situation looks like with contracts, you always want to put your best foot forward. You never know what will happen through the course of a season. I'm just trying to go in the right direction.”

McKenna had a strong season for the Panthers in Portland, Maine, last year and was called up last year when Al Montoya was hurt.

Although McKenna appears to be fourth on the depth chart, things could definitely change.

The Panthers are expected to start the season with Reimer backing up Luongo.

Berra, on a one-way NHL contract, has to clear waivers to be assigned to the AHL.

If Berra was claimed by another team, McKenna returns to his spot as Florida's AHL starter without much competition. If Berra makes it to Springfield, well, so be it.

“I know I have my work cut out for me, we have three other great goalies there, proven guys who have done a lot,'' said McKenna, who has appeared in 22 NHL games with Arizona, New Jersey, Columbus and Tampa Bay.

“I've always been up for a challenge, have never shied away from a fight. I've always had to earn my position. This is just another challenge, another part of the career in which I have to fight through."

Florida's goaltending situation is obviously one of the team's strengths heading into the season.

McKenna is part of that.

Last year at Portland, McKenna was 33-17-5 for the Pirates with a 2.445 goals-against average and a save percentage of 92 percent.

“We expect the same kind of performance out of him this year. He's a great veteran,'' goalie coach Robb Tallas said.

“He has played a lot of games in the American league and if we need to call him up, we're confident he can do the job. He's a reliable guy. We have a lot of great goalies in this organization now and there are tough decisions. But Mike's been down tough roads before. Sometimes the guys who hang in there often come away with the win.''

▪ McKenna wasn’t the only player Florida sent down to its AHL camp as the Panthers made numerous moves Friday to make their training camp roster a little more managable as the team hits the road for a few days.

Among the players sent to AHL training camp: Chase Balisy, Sam Brittain, Michael Downing, Anthony Greco and Juho Lammikko.

Florida also released former Minnesota Wild winger Justin Fontaine from the professional tryout.

▪ Thursday — Tampa Bay 2, Florida 0: The Panthers dropped to 1-2 in the preseason after losing at Amalie Arena on Thursday night.

The Lightning took a 1-0 lead when Jeremy Morin scored on Reimer less than four minutes into the second.

Tampa Bay's final goal came when Brayden Point scored on Berra with 5:12 remaining.

Florida continues its preseason Sunday in London, Ontario, against the Dallas Stars before traveling to Texas to play the Stars at AmericanAirlines Center on Tuesday.

The Panthers return to South Florida next week and play host to the Lightning at BB&T Center on Thursday.

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