Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Surprising Florida Panthers a Perfect Mix of Youth and Experience

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Surprising Florida Panthers a Perfect Mix of Youth and Experience

Article excerpt

Florida Panthers mixing youth, experience

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VANCOUVER - Roberto Luongo was 11 when Jaromir Jagr entered the NHL.

Asked what he recalled about the flashy forward back then, the Florida Panthers' 36-year-old goalie responded with a smile: "The mullet."

Luongo is among a handful of Panthers who remember, or were even alive, when Jagr played his first game back in 1990.

"He's a freak of nature," Luongo said of his 43-year-old teammate. "I've never seen anybody like that before. Incredible the things he's doing at his age, the work ethic he has."

Perhaps equally incredible is how Luongo, Jagr and a few other veterans have meshed with the Panthers' talented and youthful core to turn heads and be one of the NHL's biggest surprises through the first half of the season.

Florida (26-12-5) won a franchise-record 12 straight games before Monday's 3-2 loss overtime loss in Vancouver, a stretch that rocketed the club up the standings to first place in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference.

"Everybody's really bought into what we're trying to do as a team," Luongo said prior to the game against the Canucks. "Young guys have really come into their own, the older guys on the team have stepped up and played big roles for us."

Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant points to the leadership Luongo, Jagr, Willie Mitchell (38), Shawn Thornton (38) and Brian Campbell (36) have provided to a group that has 11 players under the age of 25, including Aaron Ekblad (19), Aleksander Barkov (20) and Jonathan Huberdeau (22).

"They're huge for our young guys," said Gallant. "They're showing them the way, they're playing hard and they can all still contribute to our team and play well. That's the most important thing."

Jagr has 15 goals and 17 assists this season, while Luongo saw a personal nine-game winning streak snapped in the loss to Vancouver after allowing two goals or fewer in six straight starts. …

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