In 2006, David Booth was playing for Michigan State's hockey team, juggling classes with practices. In 2008, after a breakout 22-goal season for the Florida Panthers in his sophomore NHL season, the Miami Herald was ready to anoint him the future star of the franchise:
This team, bereft of glamour, needs a face fans can embrace. Let's nominate David Booth.
Booth showed flashes of brilliance in the team's opener. He's got a sprinter's speed and a boxer's quick feet. He plays with the kind of urgency that's been lacking in the Panthers' languorous starts the past few seasons.
His frantic style is in direct contrast with the laidback demeanor for the Detroit native off the ice, and the patience that's required to excel at his favorite pastime: Hunting.
Like, bears and stuff.
We caught up with Booth as Florida visited the Verizon Center in D.C. this week. He was out of the lineup that night with a shoulder injury, but has already started to build upon his stellar 2007-08 campaign with 12 goals already for the Panthers. The discussion ranged from his rising star in the NHL, what he drives and eats, the pressure to one day play for the Detroit Red Wings and bow-hunting grizzlies.
PD: So what do you do to pass the time between games or practices?
BOOTH: It's hard down in Florida, because I'm a really big hunter. I've hunted pretty much everything. I went on a bear hunt in the spring. Antelope hunt in August. Elk hunt in late August.
What do you use to hunt?
I use a bow. Just got a Mathews bow coming in the mail for Christmas, so I'm pretty excited about that.
It's a lot harder. I've shot some big deer and I couldn't find them, because you've gotta be within 40 yards of the deer, when with a gun you can be 240.
Have you ever shot a bear with a bow and arrow?
It was my first time bear hunting this summer and I didn't even see one, so I was pretty upset. I think I'm going to go on a grizzly hunt with my bow next August.
[Boston Bruins goalie] Tim Thomas is a grizzly hunter too, right?
Yeah, we played together in the world championships and I definitely picked his brain.
He has killed a bear.
One of the guys on our site, Sean Leahy, wanted me to tell you that you were his fantasy stud last season.
(Laughing) Oh yeah? Alright. Got it. You can tell him you told me.
Looking at your stats, there's this huge difference between your first year in the League and your second. What changed for you?
I think it's just the amount of time I played. The first year I averaged eight minutes, and we had 13 forwards on one-way (contracts), so I wasn't even supposed to play that year. When I did play, I was a fourth-line kind of guy. My second year, I had the opportunity to play with Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss. Those players are so, so skilled.
I only played 36 games, 40 games at most [in college], and then you play double that [in the NHL]. It's faster, more intense. It was a learning experience in my first year, but in the my second year I knew what to expect.
Can you remember your favorite NHL goal? That, you know, you scored?
Yeah, there were actually a couple recently -- scored a goal with seven seconds left to tie a game, scored an overtime game-winner earlier in the year. My first goal this year was probably one of my favorites: Split the D, deked the goalie and scored. That doesn't happen a lot for me. Most of my goals are on rebounds. However they come, I'll take them.
I went back and looked, and you have one career shootout attempt. What's that about?
Yep, against the Capitals. In this building. The No. 10 shooter. Hopefully I'll get to do a couple of them this year.
But you can't like the shootout, right?
Oh, I do like the shootout. They didn't have it in college, but I wish they did.
What's the difference on the team after the change in coaches?
We got a lot of new guys in. I think it's a little better in the locker room. Guys are closer together.
We're fore-checking harder. The D are pinching, and that keeps the play in the offensive zone a little big longer.
As a Michigan State guy, do you have a deep-seeded hatred for Michigan?
No, I don't. Some people do. But I respected those games, because they were fun to play in and you really look forward to them. It was a high-intensity game.
Now that you're out of school, can you be honest and admit that you were jealous of the Michigan helmets?
No, I can still say that maybe that was the reason I didn't go there. (Laughs)
When I was growing up, I was undecided whether I wanted to go to Michigan or Michigan State. I wanted to stay close to home, and both were about an hour or hour and a half away from my house. Both are great programs.
Favorite movie would have to be "The Count of Monte Cristo."
It's a great movie, the one with Jim Caviezel. I just remember watching it in college for the first time, and it was so confusing to me. And then I watched it again, and every time I watched it I picked up something new in it. I liked it because it made you think.
But my favorite movie character is Will Ferrell.
What kind of music do you dig?
I grew up listening to country. Me and my brothers would go to country concerts. George Strait. I've been to a Carrie Underwood concert. Brad Paisley. Sara Evans. Keith Urban was awesome.
Have you picked up a love of salsa music playing in South Florida?
It's funny: I've actually I've picked up a taste of techno music, because they play that non-stop in Florida.
What do you drive?
A Camaro, a 2002. I kind of like fast cars, and that was the best one I could afford back in college. My dad actually picked up the tab.
What do you eat?
I try to eat organic, actually. Our trainer has helped me out a lot with my nutrition and dieting.
Video games? You into them?
No, not at all, actually. The last game I was into was Resident Evil for PlayStation, when I was in eighth grade. I remember every day after school, we'd go get some Baskin Robbins or a Slurpee and come home and play Resident Evil.
Finally: You gotta be sick of all your old friends asking you when you're going to play for the Red Wings, right?
(Ed. Note: At this point in the interview, Booth uses what can only be called the Emo Phillips voice to impersonate his friends).
"How come you don't play for the Red Wings?" It's just typical questions like that. I understand that hockey is a hard sport to get, but you get some questions where people just have no clue.
So you have to explain the intricacies of restricted free agency to them?
Oh, no, I don't even understand that myself, so I just stay away from it.
Booth's a cool kid, and the Panthers are lucky to have him. He's going to get paid next summer as an RFA, which means he can finally quit his job working in that ice cream shop.