When I pulled up to the arena it brought back memories from playing high school hockey. There was nowhere to park, every spot was filled. When I entered the building the stands were packed. There was hundreds of people. There were young fans, old fans, old jerseys, new jerseys, and people cheering. Could this really be happening? This felt like the times of old. Fans who are supporting the team, not just game days but practices too.
There was chatter about hockey, not about how bad the Dolphins are playing, not about how aweful the Marlins new logo/uniforms are, not about the possibillity of basketball being played. There was chatter of "So we were in first for one day but we are playing well enough to get back there." "How many goals do you think Garrison will score this year?" "Whats going to happen with Gudbranson and Ellerby?" The more and more you look around, the more and more you see this becoming a hockey town again.
The practice at Pines Ice was a great idea because when the Panthers moved north they "alienated" a bunch of their fans in Miami. Not because they are playing at the "Your name here" arena but because they moved the teams' practice facility out of Miami as well. Gone are the days of the Panthers practicing in Kendall. Gone are the days of the team walking out and signing autographs to fans waiting outside the Miami Arena after games. But today felt right, like a lot of things are feeling right with this team. It started with a promise, one that has been forgotten, at the very first Panthers Townhall meeting for season ticket holders. As I sat there watching and listening to new owners Stu Seigel and Cliff Viner I couldn't help but think "Yeah Right! I have heard this before." I even questioned Michael Yormark about the teams' dedication to its fans by making the players more accessible to us. We were promised change and no one believed it. However, three years later we are looking at the team in a brand new light.
I wish that the answer was simply to say that the team is winning but it goes deeper than that. At last year's Faceoff Gala I was introduced to Dale Tallon and he and I chatted for a brief few minutes. I looked at him skeptically because we have had high profile GM's before and nothing changed. We still hadn't made the playoffs since 2000. He looked me in the eye and said I promise you that things around here are going to change, not just on the ice but off it as well. I can happily say he proved me wrong. Gone are the days that the team plays flat night in and night out "because nobody cares about hockey down here." Gone are the days that we hold our breath with a lead because we all knew the players hearts weren't into winning. This team is held to higher standards and it starts from the top.
The new ownership has shown a commitment not just to winning but also to growing hockey in South Florida and I am under the impression that they are holding true to that promise. Yes they may not be as far South as we may like but they are making attempts to bring this team closer to the fans. They brought in players that want to play here, want to win here, and most importantly play for the fans and not the paycheck. They lowered ticket prices, they are advertising. They are making the arena more of a family enviroment. And with the recent changes to red they are making the arena feel like home.
As we sit in a playoff position and only a handful of points out of first place in the Eastern Conference I can say that even if we dont make the playoffs this feels right. This feels like a team for the fans to get behind and cheer for. I am proud to cheer from my seats on a nightly basis. For the first time in a long time this feels right.
Here is my interview with Harvey from the Sun Sentinal: http://blogs.sun-sentinel.com/sports_hockey_panthers/2011/11/panthers-fan-adam-meyers-video-take-on-his-favorite-team.html
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