Sunday, March 20, 2011


All Good Reasons!

At this point in the National Hockey League season, with less than a dozen games left, teams and individual players have a variety of motivations. Some teams are on the brink of elimination from post-season play, and are desperate to win to make the playoffs. Others have discovered that they cannot make the playoffs, and assume a spoiler role, trying to beat the teams that are above them.

Individually, some players are in the last year of their contracts, and they like to play well at the end of the regular season, and into the playoffs, to leave a good impression for contract talks coming up after the season.

Last week we headed over to Fort Lauderdale to see our final game before heading north. The Panthers were hosting the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are in the process of jockeying for position at the top of the heap, playing hard to help determine whom they might play in the first round of the post-season games. The Panthers are playing for pride.

As has been the case with so many of the Panthers’ games this year, the result was in doubt until the final seconds. With more than 70 games under their belts in this 82 game season, the Panthers have had almost fifty games determined by one goal. There have been a few empty net games built into this statistic. They have had more than their share of overtime games, mostly losses. They have struggled with shootouts. They are close, but they do not emerge with the cigar.

Between Sections 115 and 120 at the Bank/Atlantic Centre, you will find an impressive display of Florida Panther memorabilia. That zone has been dubbed the “Den of Honour”, and features everything from soup to nuts about the history of the young Florida franchise. There is a special plaque at the front of the area acknowledging the contribution of Bill Torrey. He can be rightfully considered as the father of the franchise, as he oversaw the building of the team from its infancy. I chatted with him between periods about his days with the Islanders.

He built the Islander franchise, and was there for their series of Stanley Cups, sipping the champagne with the likes of Bossy, Bourne, Potvin, Clark Gillies, and Billy Smith. He would love history to repeat itself in Florida. No such luck up to this point in time; however, that myth about a southern team not being able to win the big one has been shattered a couple of times: Tampa Bay and the West Coast Ducks sport gaudy rings.

The “Den of Honour” pays tribute to players who have donned the Panther sweater in the past, and an impressive cast it is. Goaltenders: Roberto Luongo and John Van Biesbrouck. Skaters: Kirk Muller, Dino Ciccarelli, Olli Jokinen, Gord Murphy, Rob Niedermayer, Viktor Kozlov, Igor Larionov, and the Bure brothers-Valeri and Pavel. Current Panther colour man on the telecasts Bill Lindsay is also recognized. Scott Mellanby’s goal on the sixth of October, 1993 was the Panther first.

Torrey was at the helm, Bobby Clarke was the first GM, and Roger Nielsen was behind the bench when Mellanby lit the lamp. An impressive array of suits. Last year, Dale Tallon took over the reins as GM. He is a Quebec lad, from the Rouen-Noranda mines. We discussed his early days as he perused an email from a mutual friend. “I remember all those days with those guys,” he stated. He has the monstrous job of turning this franchise into a winner. He did so in Chicago, helping the Hawks to their first Cup since the early sixties. He has his work cut out for him, with a fine core of young players on which to build.

Two nights later, the Panthers blanked the Leafs 4-0, making it a little more difficult for the Blue and White to head into the playoffs. Then again, that is the nature of late season play. For all those good reasons!

James Hurst March 20, 2011

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