The Panthers will celebrate Hispanic Heritage night during Thursday’s game against the visiting Coyotes.
The biggest part of the promotion will likely be on the bench.
Goalie Al Montoya, the first Cuban-American to play in the NHL, has made one start and only two appearances for the Panthers since signing a two-year deal in July.
With Roberto Luongo entrenched as Florida's starter, Montoya has had limited time on the ice so far. Yet he knew that would be the case coming in.
Because of the relaxed schedule to start the year, the Panthers have played in just one back-to-back game — and Montoya got that start in Washington. Montoya also stopped all 10 shots faced in relief of Luongo during Florida's 5-1 home opening loss to the Devils.
“I know what I’m capable of and know I can play in this league,” Montoya said.
“Even though the odds were stacked against us in a back-to-back game, you have to give your team a chance. They see that, see you battle. It was anyone’s game going into the shootout. It was a cool game, one I was glad to be a part of.”
Despite the lack of playing time, Montoya has been active in the Hispanic community trying to sell a game he fell in love with while growing up in Chicago.
Not only has Montoya been going on Spanish-language radio to promote hockey (Thursday’s game is one of three this season to be broadcast in Spanish), but he’s talking up the game at local Cuban restaurants as well.
The Panthers are even offering a meet-and-greet with Montoya after Thursday’s game.
“It’s very cool,” Montoya said. “As I’ve said, I’m blessed to do what I do. I come from a Hispanic background, one where hockey wasn’t a big sport for us. For me to play this game, put on the pads every day that’s my dream and I can’t wait to share it with the rest of the Hispanic community.”
Although Luongo has been doing most of the work in net for the Panthers this year, Montoya has had his moments in his two games.
Yet with Florida not playing in back-to-back games until December, it is unclear when Montoya will find his way back in.
Perhaps it will come Thursday, perhaps not.
Regardless, the Panthers figure he’ll be ready to play when called upon.
“In the games he has played he’s done well, got us a point in Washington,'” Luongo said. “So far, he’s been amazing. The schedule will get a bit more hectic now so we’ll start seeing him a bit more. No matter the position, you want to be playing. He understands his role and does it well. It’s a big plus for our team.”
This and that
The Panthers have stayed with the same lineup the past few games with center Dave Bolland (groin) missing three in a row. Jimmy Hayes and Colby Robak were scratched again for Saturday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Coyotes.
Robak, 24, earned the final of 23 roster spots coming out of training camp, but has yet to play thanks to the solid work done by Dylan Olsen.
“Colby’s a good player,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He works hard, competes hard, is a solid kid. The way things are going right now, we’re happy with the way our defense pairings are playing. When he gets his chance, he’ll play. He’s the seventh defenseman and understands that.”
▪ Bolland said he hurt his groin in one of his final shifts during the third period of Florida's 1-0 victory in Buffalo on Oct. 17.
The Panthers have been able to take it slow with Bolland (who signed a five-year deal worth $27.5 million during the offseason) thanks to the play of Brandon Pirri. On Saturday, Pirri picked up his second goal in as many games to tie for the team lead despite playing in just three games.
“He’s a goal scorer, that’s what he does,” Gallant said. “He made a great play [Saturday] and put us up 1-0. He’s playing well, but everyone is playing well.”