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'I'm an easy coach to get along with': The Gerard Gallant era with Panthers gets underway

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Gerard Gallant never had a coach that he didn't enjoy playing for, and he wants the Florida Panthers to feel that way about him.

So far, so good.

The Gallant era with the Panthers officially opened Friday with the start of training camp, his first formal workout with the club since being hired as its 13th head coach on June 21. Over the three months that followed, Gallant left Florida's players alone—he's not big on talking on the phone, and figures camp will provide enough chances to forge the relationships he'll need to turn the Panthers around.

"I told the guys the other day, I want good people on the hockey team," Gallant said. "I don't want to come here every day without being happy. It's about winning and working hard ... but you've got to be yourself, and for me, my personality is to have fun, come to the rink, work hard, make our team compete real hard and that's what I want our players to do.

"I'm an easy coach to get along with."

Many players met Gallant for the first time earlier this week, when he briefly addressed the team about the importance of competing in training camp and how jobs are there for the taking.

The message was simple, which will probably be the norm with Gallant.

"I know he had a great career in the NHL," new Panthers defenceman Willie Mitchell said. "Seems to be a soft-spoken guy. I talked to some colleagues around the league so I know a little bit about him. Not a lot."

Gallant is also a bit of mystery to Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, so he did some homework during the off-season as well. And much like Mitchell, Luongo liked what he heard.

"I don't really know much about him," Luongo said. "I did get a ton of positive feedback over the summer, guys that worked with him, guys that coached him, they all had nothing but great things to say about him. It's a huge addition to our club, especially with all the young guys. Teaching is a huge part of this team with all the young people that we have."

Gallant spent parts of 11 seasons in the NHL as a player, mostly with Detroit and spending plenty of time playing for Jacques Demers, from whom Gallant has borrowed much of his coaching style. The left wing scored 211 goals in 615 games, with four consecutive seasons of at least 34 goals from 1986 through 1990.

His offensive know-how might come in handy for Florida, which has the second-fewest goals scored over the last two seasons—and probably not coincidentally, the second-fewest wins in the league over that span as well.

"System-wise, composure-wise, all those things," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said, when asked how Gallant could make the team better. "He's going to teach. He's going to be communicating, have conversations with these young guys. And I think his balance, he's just a balanced guy. He'll motivate and will teach and will be patient and will get the best out of every player just because of his personality and how he gets along with people."

Gallant has a reputation as a players' coach, but that doesn't mean he's not intense. He had a steely look at certain points during the opening on-ice session Friday morning, running his club through drills for the first time.

"Oh, yeah, he's got that dimension, too," Tallon said.

NOTES: No. 1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad was paired in the scrimmage with Mitchell on one defence line. Mitchell is still more than twice Ekblad's age; the two-time Stanley Cup winner is 37 years, 5 months, while Ekblad is 18 years, 7 months. ... The Panthers' preseason opener is Wednesday against Dallas. ... RW Brad Boyes was the first player on the ice, eight minutes early. "I've had a lot of long offseasons," Boyes said.



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