Belle River’s Aaron Ekblad and the Florida Panthers are in the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Last year, the Panthers missed the post-season by seven points.
“I think last year myself and lot of the other younger guys didn’t realize it’s the games earlier in the year before the Christmas break that are truly the most important ones, the ones that you need to have, especially against teams below you in the standings,” Ekblad told nhl.com.
Ekblad, the NHL rookie of the year last season, said the team is relying on veterans Jarmoir Jagr, 43, Willie Mitchell, 38, and Brian Campbell, 36.
“I lived with [Mitchell], I’m experiencing the living legend on Jaromir Jagr every single day and I got to play with Brian Campbell for almost 100 games,” Ekblad said.
“Learning from all three of those guys in all different ways, whether it’s life or hockey, is really cool. They’ve won Stanley Cups and that’s what I want to do. I want to help my team and contribute to winning a Stanley Cup.
“I want to win multiple Stanley Cups and I pray to God that’s with Florida because I love the team, love the organization and I think we have a really opportunity to do great things.”
Ekblad has eight goals and eight assists for 16 points in 34 games this year. He scored a goal in Sunday’s 5-4 shootout victory against the Vancouver Canucks.
Windsor’s Hunter Smith and former Spitfire Pat Sieloff were on the winning team at the American Hockey League outdoor game in Sacramento Saturday.
The Stockton Heat beat the Bakersfield Condors 3-2. Sieloff had two shots and Hunter had one on former Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens.
The game, postponed Friday night beat of heavy rain, drew a crowd of 9,357 at Raley Field, home of the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A baseball team.