Panthers and Oilers off-ice battle features Mario Kart and Poker

EDMONTON — The 2024 Stanley Cup Final is a battle between the Edmonton Oilers and the Florida Panthers. Two teams from different countries with different heritages. Each team has its own philosophy on how to pass the time well on marathon flights between cities.

The Stanley Cup Final is also Team Mario Kart versus Team Poker.

The Oilers and Panthers set an NHL record for the longest distance between two teams in a Stanley Cup Final, 2,541 miles. That’s a lot of time in the air and a lot of time to travel.

The Oilers pass this time with games of Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch gaming console.

Fans first heard about these trips down Rainbow Road during Edmonton’s Western Conference final series against the Dallas Stars. After their Game 5 win, goaltender Stuart Skinner was asked about his chance of making the Stanley Cup Final in Edmonton and calming his nerves about it.

“Just stay in the moment. Tomorrow I can live my life and get on a plane and beat those Mario Kart guys. I’ll probably get a few first places. I’m sure of it,” he said with confidence. .

He used Mario Kart for the same therapeutic means after Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, when the Oilers came back from Fort Lauderdale 2-0 down in the series.

“I don’t turn on the TV. Just Mario Kart,” he said. “I’ve been amazing. I’ve won a lot of matches. I’ve lost a few, but we don’t need to talk about that.”

Skinner said he played the role of Toad, “but honestly, I could be anyone.” Oilers star Connor McDavid plays Luigi, while teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is Mario.

“He wants to be like me, so he chooses the characters with mustaches,” Skinner said.

Defenseman Darnell Nurse doesn’t play with any one character.

“Darnell changes from time to time,” Skinner said. “He just wants to find a way to beat us, which never happens.”

The Oilers aren’t the only team to reach the Stanley Cup final by pulling themselves out of turtle shells.

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights played Mario Kart 64 during the 2018 Finals at their hotels. Forward TJ Oshie got so involved in the game that he bought a Nintendo 64 to practice at home, and after Washington won the Cup, he got a tattoo of Mario’s nemesis, Wario, on his thigh.

What about NHL players and Mario Kart?

“I think it’s just being on a plane for six hours,” Skinner said. “You need to find something to do. It’s either movies, play games, play cards, whatever you can find. Take a nap. So we’ve had plenty of time to hang out together.”

The video game also has a practical function.

“As funny as it sounds, it’s a really good way to bond with your teammates. Laugh with each other and get to know each other better,” Skinner said.

But it’s competitive. Just like the poker games on the Panthers team plane, which allow participants to pass the time and entertain spectators.

Case in point: The Panthers recently had their flight to Edmonton for Game 3 delayed due to torrential rain and flooding in South Florida. Of course, there were other ways to entertain oneself – like giving a standing ovation when a saturated team coach entered the plane in the rain – but chief among them was the game of poker.

“The guys playing cards had a little more time to win or lose money, and we were just watching how it went,” center Anton Lundell said.

There is a core of Panthers who play poker on flights. Matthew Tkachuk, Nick Cousins, Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett and Carter Verhaeghe sit. Gustav Forsling and Josh Mahura stand next to them and play as well.

“It’s pretty intense. We’re having a good time because it’s competitive as you would expect,” defenseman Aaron Ekblad said.

Some players know their cards. Others think so.

“I’m not good, but there are a few good guys who are,” Verhaeghe said. “I mean, Gustav is pretty good. And (Ekblad) thinks he’s pretty good.”

Cousins ​​was called the worst player on the table by Bennett. Ekblad said Kyle Okposo, who steps in for a few hands, has taken “a lot of money from the boys” since joining the team at the trade deadline.

Defenseman Brandon Montour is not playing.

“I make fun of some guys who play, but that’s it,” he said.

Why doesn’t he up the ante?

“Just because you have to commit. These guys will play, I don’t even know… how long is the flight to Edmonton? Like six hours? Guys will play from an hour before takeoff until we land, so I won’t play for seven hours,” he said.

Seven hours would require a hell of a lot of money.

“For some,” Montour said with a laugh.

Poker isn’t the only card game on Panthers flights. Center Kevin Stenlund said there was another table on the plane playing “Seven Up, Seven Down.”

“It’s different. But both matches are intense,” he said. “It’s a long flight. It requires a lot of maps, but it really helps pass the time.”

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