Hockey season is finally here. That's right, after months and months of off-season, and roughly three weeks of tune-up games, the Panthers are ready to open the 2003-04 campaign against the Carolina Hurricanes at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Office Depot Center (1 Panthers Pkwy., Sunrise).
The 2002 season was tough to swallow -- the team's 24 wins and 70 points placed it third from the bottom in the Eastern Conference -- but there are many bright spots and reasons for optimism this year. The Cats re-signed leading goal scorer Olli Jokinen, traded for solid winger Eric Messier, and picked up a few free agents including winger Lee Goren. By the way, Valeri Bure is back with the squad. And then there's top draft pick Nathan Horton.
The preseason has been tough, with the Panthers again at the bottom of the standings in the Southeast Division. The team's lone preseason win came against these very Hurricanes on September 19, so maybe the Panthers will have a leg up on opening night.
As for the rest of the season, there are a number of dates you might want to circle on your calendar. Mario Lemieux makes two trips to South Florida this year: first on November 7 and again on February 12. Mario pulled an Air Jordan this off-season, retracting his decision to retire and returning for yet another year, his 16th in a Pens sweater. There's not much left in Super Mario's tank, and this season very well could be his last. Make sure to be at the ODC during one of the Cats' contests against the Penguins.
Other notable dates include March 3, when the Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils make their way down to South Florida, and November 11, the first of three games against intrastate rivals Tampa Bay Lightning.
So it all gets started Thursday night. Tickets cost $14 to $150. Call 954-835-PUCK. -- Russ Evans
She's Got Hustle
In terms of women and pool, many people instantly recognize Jeanette Lee, a.k.a. the "Black Widow," as a prominent figure in the world of billiards. But do you know who the number-one-ranked female is? Allison Fisher may be unknown to the general public, but she is the top-ranked women's billiards player in the country, and she's appearing at Billiard Tables and More (8236 Glades Rd., Boca Raton) to sign autographs, give demonstrations, and play whoever's got the balls (pun intended) to challenge her. Fisher won the World Snooker Championship (for the uninitiated, snooker involves 15 red balls that must be pocketed before one proceeds to nail yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, or black balls) at age 17 and continued kicking ass and taking names until 1995, when she took a shot at the Women's Professional Billiards Pro 9-Ball tour. Since then, Fisher has won 90 percent of the matches in her seven-year pro career, has had more ESPN televised tournament match appearances than any player in history, and has even started her own billiards academy to help regular folk perfect their games. Check out Fisher's skills from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Call 561-483-9991. -- Audra Schroeder
Rollin' Down the River
How to avert drowning, the Eskimo way
So you're coasting downriver in your new kayak when you hit a rough patch and -- whoops! -- you flip over. You might wonder what to do now that you're upside down, holding your breath, and desperately wiggling from side to side while you try to slip out of your boat and avoid drowning. At this point, you could die in your kayak, slip away from it only to lose the boat as it plummets downstream, or even get away from the boat and still drown trying to get to shore.
This is why you need the Eskimo Rolling Clinic, which takes place from 8:30 a.m. to noon at Adventure Times Kayaks (521 Northlake Blvd., North Palm Beach). A certified instructor teaches participants how to roll properly through the water and right their boats, thus avoiding previously mentioned hazards. Preregistration is required, and admission is $75. Call 561-881-7218. -- Dan Sweeney
It's About Sport
The word sport gets tossed around these days much like the words pretty or unique. Most things that are called unique are not, in fact, one of a kind. And pretty has come to mean anything that is not ugly. Similarly, we must now question how many things called sports are really that. Last year's Winter Olympics featured ice dancing, fer Chrissake. And at Lake Forest Park (3450 SW 48th Ave., Pembroke Park) from 6 to 7:30 p.m. this Friday and subsequent Fridays through November 14, an Ultimate Frisbee League is starting up. Ultimate Frisbee is a game in which you play the traditional game of Frisbee while trying to make your tosses look interesting and creative. If this is a sport, so is hackey sack. Of course, neither one is a sport, you couch potato. Both are games. There's a world of difference. Ice dancing, on the other hand, is neither sport nor game. It's just lame. For more information on the Ultimate Frisbee League or to register, call 954-985-1915. -- Dan Sweeney