In what may have been the final full on-ice practice of what has been a disappointing season, Tom Rowe pulled his team to the side with a message to finish strong, play the right way.
The Florida Panthers have not done a lot of that lately, one reason why Rowe will not return as their coach next season.
Rowe admitted Wednesday his job was to get the Panthers into the playoffs.
They didn’t make it and now someone else will run practices and coach this team next season.
“It’s frustrating. I was the guy who was supposed to get the team there and didn’t,” Rowe said in a candid media session Wednesday at BB&T Center.
“I didn’t get it done and I’m going to take the blame for that. That’s the way it should be. It’s not the players, they did everything we asked them to do. I probably pushed certain guys too hard at the wrong time and it had a negative effect. That’s something I’ll learn for the future.”
Multiple sources told the Miami Herald that Rowe will not return as coach next season and Wednesday’s practice was the first since that report first surfaced.
Rowe didn’t make his weekly radio spot with Joe Rose on Wednesday morning but did answer questions from others in the afternoon.
One topic he addressed without being asked was the banner plane which circled the arena before Monday’s game with the Canadiens.
The banner read: ‘Rowe must go! Call him a cab’ and it brought a positive public response from its target.
“It shows you how much passion there is within our fanbase,” Rowe said. “The fella who paid for that plane to fly around the arena the other night tells you all you need to know. This is a market that cares about hockey and it’s here to stay.
“When I coached in Carolina, we would come here and there would be only 5,000 people in the building. Now, people are renting planes to get their message across.”
Rowe has served as the interim head coach since Gerard Gallant was fired after a 11-10-1 start. Florida ownership wasn’t happy with the way things were going, not coming off a divisional title and a franchise-record 103 points.
Yet if things got better, they only did so for a brief time. Florida has struggled as this season comes to a close as it went into Wednesday just a point back of the bottom of the division.
The St. Louis Blues visit on Thursday, a reminder to the Panthers of what the good times felt like.
On Feb. 20, Vincent Trocheck scored with 4.6 seconds left to lift Florida to a 2-1 win over the host Blues at Scottrade Center. It was the fifth consecutive win for the Panthers who went 5-0 on a road trip for the first time in franchise history.
“It felt like we won the Stanley cup for just a second,” Trocheck said afterward.
The team had won eight of nine, held a playoff spot and was rising to the top of the division. Everything was looking up.
And then, it wasn’t. The Panthers proceeded to lose their following three games and eight of nine.
Since beating the Blues, Florida has lost 16 of 21 games.
“I literally lay awake at night wondering what happened, Rowe said. “We played a very simple game on the road all season. When we came home, we tried to do too much.”
When Rowe took over behind the bench, he gave up his day-to-day responsibilities as general manager yet kept the title.
Whether he keeps that (he is believed to be under contract for the next three years) remains to be seen. He said he will sit down with Dale Tallon and discuss his future once the season concludes.
“I like it here, love the organization and have been treated very well,” Rowe said.
For Rowe, who didn’t seem to have much interest in coaching after retiring from a seven-year NHL career in 1984, this latest run has been quite the experience.
Two days after he delivered owner Vinnie Viola’s message to Gallant, Rowe stepped behind an NHL bench as a head coach for the first time at Chicago’s United Center.
Florida lost that night, something it did more than Rowe would have liked in his brief tenure as head coach.
“This has been tremendous. Whenever you can be on an NHL bench, it’s an unbelievable experience,” the 60-year-old rookie NHL coach said Wednesday.
“I have learned a lot about what it’s like to be a coach in this league with all the pressures that come along with it. The expectations were high — and they should have been.”
The first U.S.-born player to score 30 goals in a season in 1979, Rowe went from playing in the NHL to being a salesman before joining the Hartford Whalers in a variety of positions from broadcasting and scouting as well as working in the front office.
Rowe spent many years coaching in the minor leagues before becoming an assistant with the Carolina Hurricanes.
He left a scouting gig with the Hurricanes to take on the tough task of coaching the rebirth of Russia’s Yaroslavl Lokomotiv a year after a plane crash tragically wiped away an entire team.
“I wasn’t ready for the emotional toll,’’ Rowe told the San Antonio Express-News in 2014. “It hit me harder than I thought it would.”
It was after being fired by that team that he came back to the United States and ended up with the Panthers.
After coaching Florida’s AHL team for parts of three seasons, he joined the front office as associate general manager. A few months later, he was an NHL general manager.
“I get up every day pinching myself,’’ Rowe told the Miami Herald last year.
▪ Add Jussi Jokinen to the growing list of Florida players shutting it down due to injury. Aaron Ekblad, Sasha Barkov and Roberto Luongo will not play in the final three games.
Rowe said Luongo isn’t skating any more with goalie coach Robb Tallas working with him off the ice.
▪ Shawn Thornton confirmed Saturday’s home finale will be his last NHL game.
The 39-year-old forward is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and said he will join the business side of the organization working with team CEO Matthew Caldwell.
THURSDAY: BLUES AT PANTHERS
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center.
TV/radio: SUN; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMYM 990.
Series: St. Louis leads 20-9-3.
Scouting report: The Blues have three games left before embarking on the playoffs and come into Thursday’s game with the Panthers ranked in the top half of the league in penalty kill (6th), power play (8th), goals against (12th) and goals per-game (13th). The Blues clinched a playoff spot yet come into Thursday a point up on both Nashville for third in the Central Division.