And then there were two. After shifting through over 1,500 applications and putting 58 netminding hopefuls through their paces yesterday, Panthers' goaltender coach Robb Tallas tabbed 34-year-old Bill Ruggiero and 26-year-old Dustin Smith as the two finalists in the club's mega-awesome Goal of a Lifetime contest.
The pair will go head-to-head in a shootout during the first intermission of tonight's Cats - Canadiens game at the BB&T Center. The winner will get to participate in a full Panthers practice as the back-up keeper and will also receive two complimentary tickets for each home game remaining in the 2014-2015 regular season, a team-signed jersey,in addition to being featured on Fox Sports Florida during an intermission segment.
Ruggiero is a journeyman with a pretty extensive resume of minor league experience. After spending some time with the OHL's London Knights and QMJHL Moncton Wildcats in junior, his pro stops include stints with the ECHL's Johnstown Chiefs and Central Hockey League's Tulsa Oilers, as well as Single A teams, the Motor City Mechanics (UHL) and Flint Generals (IHL).
Smith, a Southwest Airlines employee and rec league goalie, played for the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders from 2006-09 and has practiced with the Nashville Predators before.
The contest featured forty-eight participants from the Sunshine State, five from Canada, including Darcy Ramstead who came almost 3,000 miles from Red Deer, two from New Jersey and one each from the fine states of Vermont and Massachusetts, as well as Tennessee's Smith. They ranged in age from 18-years-old (Drew Benedict) to 57 (Robert Thomas). ESPN's Linda Cohn, a former goalie for SUNY Oswego, was among the media members who suited up, did speed and agility drills, and took shots from Panther alumni including Bill Lindsay and Radek Dvorak. Dvorak and Marco Sturm will be the duo shooting on Ruggiero and Smith this evening.