Panik Plans to Work His Way Back to Tampa Bay

By Jeremy Houghtaling

After skating in a red practice jersey Tuesday, Richard Panik reiterated his intentions -- he came to play.

In his first game of the season with the Syracuse Crunch Saturday, the 6-3 Slovakian winger posted an assist before absorbing a thundering check by the Hershey Bears’ Tyson Strachan. Panik quickly got up from the hit, and instead of taking the game off Sunday to rest and recuperate an apparent upper body injury, he was back on the ice against the Sound Tigers Sunday.

“He gamed it out against Bridgeport,” said Crunch coach Rob Zettler.

“I miss playing hockey,” Panik said. “I got hurt after Saturday’s game and I wasn’t sure if I was going to play on Sunday, but I decided to play.”

Panik, who was reassigned by the Tampa Bay Lightning to Syracuse last week, is likely to miss the game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Wednesday, but could return to the lineup in Utica Friday.

Having already been in and out of the lineup with the Lightning all season, Panik is looking forward to getting regular ice time.

“They just wanted me to play more and get some ice time,” Panik said. “For me, the team is struggling right now, so I want to help the team, too, to win some games.”

Panik, along with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, formed the Crunch’s most productive line last season, and led the Crunch to the Calder Cup Finals. The 22-year-old recorded 14 points in 16 postseason contests after putting up 41 points in 51 regular season games.

“For him, it’s his consistency,” Zettler said. “He’s probably one of the most talented players in the organization -- not just here in Syracuse, in the organization. He’s got to bring that to the table every game. When he does do that, we won’t see him in Syracuse any more.”

Panik recorded 10 points in his first 21 games with Tampa Bay this season, but his production and ice time dwindled as the season went along. He was without a point in his last nine games with the Lightning.

“They want him to play in all situations,” Zettler said. “He wasn’t playing bad up there, they just had a lot of bodies, two extra forwards … and it was tough to get him in.”

“I had some ups and downs, and I lost my confidence,” Panik said. “I just didn’t want to do a mistake on the ice, and I tried to focus on simple plays.”

With so many talented young forwards in the Tampa Bay organization, Panik was eventually pushed to the American Hockey League. Now he’ll be the one who is knocking on the door of the National Hockey League.

“There’s always pressure,” Panik said. “That’s good for the organization to have so many young guys, so they compete against each other … Now I’m here, and I’m going to put some pressure on the guys up there, and hopefully I’m going to be there soon.”