As far as I knew when I was growing up was that hockey was not an interest of mine. Ice hockey in Florida was a foreign concept, even stranger for a Latin American. I was into baseball and from there would watch and latch onto the Florida Marlins here. It was no problem to latch onto their landlords, the Dolphins, and then the Heat but the Panthers I had not made a connection with. As a kid in South Florida ice hockey is not something that all your classmates were playing or talking about.
My earliest recollection of anything Panther related was the year Pavel Bure lead them to the playoffs but my interest was only passive at best. The game of hockey only drew my interest once after that in 2004 when the Lightning took the Cup. I even got a Lightning championship cap but the interest fell apart when the lockout happened. It wasn’t until my sister and her friends invited me along to see a Panthers-Hurricanes game in 2009. We had snuck into one of the empty club suites and I experienced a Panther blowout of the Canes. A victory at my first Panther game and in a very comfortable setting to boot. My interest was coming back and I followed hockey once the playoffs hit. I began to pick up on all the hockey lore especially about the Stanley Cup, the most unique championship prize in sports in my opinion. Last season I was invited to another game between the Cats and the Penguins. Looking around at the amount of black and yellow was unsettling and reminded me much of Marlins games filled with pesky New York, Philly, and Atlanta fans. I found myself instinctively chanting "Let’s go Cats!" as the fans tried to drown out the Pens fans. We lost that game but I came out a real Panther fan (bought a hat at the game and still where it prominently since) and I began looking for as much information on their past as I could. From merchandise, to videos, to photos, I saw that South Florida once really did love the Cats. Losing does not sit well in South Florida and after 10 years it seems pretty understandable that many have forgotten the team based by the Everglades. In that timeframe the Marlins and the Heat both won championships in two distinct ways the Panthers could not duplicate. The Fish through developing their players and making key signings, coaching choices, and trades when needed. The Heat brought in big name talent to supplement their young superstar. I went to a Sport’s Authority and couldn’t find one Panther item among the Marlins, Heat, Dolphins, Seminoles, Hurricanes, and Gators merchandise. I remember seeing Panther gear when I was a kid in the very same store. The fact the team remains here with a passionate core of fans is a testament to how strong the Panthers of the 90’s appeal was. Everyone wants to get back to the glory days and it seems the team finally intends to do that now in the 2010’s. As a new Panther fan I feel like I am watching a brand new team and it’s exciting to think about South Florida rediscovering this team again. With no Dolphins or Heat in 2011-2012 it could be this very season when people rediscover the Cats just as I did.