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Cheering by Choice: A look at what it means to become a Florida Panthers fan from afar

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Surprisingly, the Cats have some die-hard fans in other locales

Calgary Flames v Florida Panthers Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

A fan is defined as “a person who has a strong interest in or admiration for a particular person or thing.”

On the surface it seems like a simple and unassuming relationship between an individual and the object of their interest, but the breadth of fandom knows no bounds and the depths of understanding them through the individuals that comprise them, is anything but simple. Fan behaviours are rooted in social psychology and are even the subject full-on peer-reviewed scientific journal studies.

Everyone is a fan of something, be it meat pie westerns, nu jazz or nintendocore, marble runs, pineapple on pizza, my little pony, macrophilia, videos of people who cry while eating, or baby Yoda - a fan of it there is, if imagine it you can.

Being a sports fan offers people opportunities to build regional pride and family relationships. Teams can play to our aesthetic tastes or reflect and reinforce our moral standards. Fans form real connections to these teams. Hormonal responses in a fan watching their team can mirror the responses of the players actually competing, and maps of brain activity in fans looking at things team related show similar responses to those of looking at their spouse.

Disinhibition, superstitious conditioning, ingroup-outgroup biases, basking in reflected glory or cut off reflected failure - all psychological effects relating to fandom that work towards building up or tearing down our personally perceived status in societal groupings, and to rises and falls in our own personal confidence, and general mood with highs and lows. When a team wins, we feel like a part of that winning. We refer to the team, as ‘we’. After a loss, a fan may instead distance themselves from the team and the negative result.

But how do we choose who to support through the ups and downs? We mentioned sports teams building regional pride and family relationships, and though far from being the only deciding factor, they are major players in the game of picking a team to root for. If you live in a city that a team calls home, you’re exposed to them (possibly from a young age) through geographic proximity and the increased chance that your family, or your peers, may have already been supporters of the team.

And how does one pick their team when geography doesn’t lend itself to an obvious candidate? In the absence of a ‘local’ option fans can fall back on various factors in making that choice. In these instances friends and family can still be influential as they may already be rooting for nonlocal teams, you might pick a team that has a contingent of players of a nationality you relate with, or you could simply pick the closest team to where you live, wherever that may be. You might choose based on previously mentioned aesthetic interests - liking the team logo, or colours. Perhaps you choose a team whose organization is run in a way you respect, or whose city embraces them in a way you wish you were a part of. You could choose a team who employs an individual player you enjoy supporting because of their talent, style of play, personality, or maybe because they’re cute and have nice hair. I’m sure someone somewhere is a Panthers fan because of Sean Bergenheim.

There are no wrong ways to go about choosing which team you want to be a fan of. Our choices are built from our environment, our personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. I sought out some input from a group of people, myself included, whose deciding factors to follow a team were not built around geographic location.

Hello. I’m DayZeroPantherFan. I’m about to turn 42, I live near Ottawa, ON and I’m a non-local Florida Panthers fan.

By some standards I was late to the game. I was born in 1978 and as a child I dealt with a few factors that didn’t lend themselves to an obvious route to sports. First, I was painfully shy and not an overly openly social kid, and second, my father was not a fan of organized sport. Nothing to the point of ruling with an iron fist to keep sports out of the home, he just had no personal interest in sports, and so I didn’t experience that exposure at home.

My door to sports opened with my grandfather, who was a baseball fan. I remember him teaching me about the game whenever we would visit, and the Jays were playing. Familial influence led me to the Toronto Blue Jays, but I found my own way to football with geographic location playing an indirect role. I picked up an interest in the Miami Dolphins. Growing up on the east coast (of Canada) anytime I would see football on TV it always seemed to be the Dolphins playing, likely because of the geographics of broadcasting.

I remember having Panini’s 1987 NHL sticker album with Grant Fuhr on the cover. The only other things I remember about that sticker album was that I had it worn out really good, and that a few of the Minnesota North Stars players had creepy gigantic heads compared to all the rest of the players in the book. Neal Broten was definitely one of them and that I can remember this guy’s name 33 years later because of his large head, is a thing of wonder. I wasn’t following hockey yet at that time, but it’s my earliest memory of being aware of hockey and the NHL and gigantism.

It wouldn’t be until the 1992-93 season that I would (for reasons lost to time) start following hockey. I didn’t watch many games but followed how the Montreal Canadiens season was going. That year they won the cup. I was even in Montreal on a school trip the day of the parade, but they wouldn’t let us attend. The following year I chose to follow the Toronto Maple Leafs. I remember liking, and having a poster of, Felix Potvin. The Leafs started that season 10-0.

The year after that I decided to carve out my own identity. Out east there were large contingents of Leafs and Habs fans, with smaller but notable pockets of Bruins, Blackhawks, Penguins and Red Wings fans. It just so happened to be another expansion year and I was going to hop on board with one of the two teams and follow them to the (much too often) bitter end. I looked at the rosters (even though I didn’t know any of the players), and I looked at the logos and next thing I knew I had a picture of John Vanbiesbrouck in Panthers gear on my wall.

It wasn’t until about 12 years later when I moved to Ottawa that I started having to explain my choice to people when they would find out. Not a Senators fan? No, I’m not from here. Why the Panthers? Well... see above.

That’s my story but read below to learn about other non-local Panthers fans and their experiences. Pay attention to where our stories overlap and differ. Think about how our answers may relate to the information presented in the article above. Most of all, enjoy a little insight into this subset of your favourite team’s fan base.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, in the presence of sport, to witness the joining together of the following fans, with the Florida Panthers, in the holy covenant of fanaticism.

How did you become a Florida Panthers fan?

AussiePantherFan - 37 - Adelaide, Australia

I was about 20 years old (17 years ago) when I went to the Adelaide Show (similar to a travelling carnival), where in a bazaar market a stall had numerous ice hockey jerseys for sale which I perused through and I happened to find a red Florida Panthers top with the jumping panther logo on the front which I then purchased. I didn’t know this was the Florida Panthers team, I just liked the uniform and purchased it, I only discovered it was the Panthers when I got home and looked it up, and that is how I began taking an interest in the team. I used to follow the Orlando Magic growing up (Shaq/Penny fan) so when I discovered that this top was Florida, I was keen to support them, and a passing interest grew from there.

NDPanther - 30 - Brainerd, MN (via Calgary Alberta, Bismarck, ND and Grand Forks, ND)

I’ve been a fan since the beginning. My dad, being a tremendous hockey fan (as many Canadians are), always found it exciting when new teams entered the league. Whenever such an event would occur, he would purchase hats, shirts, etc. Well, he bought me a Florida Panthers pennant, shirt, and hat. I was initially drawn to the logo (I was pretty young at the time), but I told everyone from that point forward that my favorite team was the Panthers.

Brent Temple (BullyBeef) - 35 - St. John’s, NFLD

I grew up in a house with an older brother and father who didn’t really watch hockey; dad had given up on the Leafs by the late 70’s. We were/are huge Toronto Blue Jays fans and I spent my time before the Panthers came along watching baseball. I remember being 8 years old and seeing the news on TSN during the summer of ‘93 about a new team joining the NHL and they had a cool symbol and great colour-scheme, so that was enough for me. A tie with Chicago in our first game ever sealed the deal. I have been a die-hard fan ever since. I’ll even follow the team IF they ever had to relocate

Ryan Meier - ageless - somewhere near Philly

When I first started getting into hockey, it was the season the Cats went to the Stanley Cup finals, and I fell in love with the team because they had no real stars. They were a hard-working bunch of two-way players who bought into the system and played the ultimate team game and had a future all-star in net when they needed help. They were just so different than the other clubs they beat during that run and I really identified with their style of play.

Colonel Bob - 61 - Fredericksburg, PA

Through a roundabout way I became a Panthers fan because the Winnipeg Jets were leaving for Arizona and I really liked the “leapy cat” uniform when unveiled.

How do people react to you being a Panthers fan? Do you know any other fans in your area?

APF - Living in Australia most people when I tell them that I go for Florida don’t seem to take much notice because for 90% of people they don’t really care, or don’t make the connection that Florida wouldn’t be a traditional market. For the 10% who may know something about ice hockey, for the most part it is gentle ribbing, all in jest. My best mate is a Vancouver Canucks fan, and so this is my second team. He gives me gentle ribbing about being a Panther fan, but for the most part it is all in good nature, and we have a shared appreciation of supporting an ice hockey team from overseas.

NDP - I’d say that I get both acceptance and ribbing. Whenever I meet someone new and become aware that they are a hockey fan, I generally make some sort of self-deprecating remark about being a “cursed” Panthers fan. My family and friends often make jokes about me liking such a perennially bad team, but they also tend to cheer for the Panthers when they aren’t playing their favorite team. To answer the final part of the question, no. In my lifetime, besides attending games, I’ve maybe seen two other Panthers jerseys out in the wild.

Brent - Most of the time the reaction is usually a mix of bewilderment and being incredulous. Strangers usually would ask if I’m a new fan because of Roberto Luongo or Aleksander Barkov or Jonathan Huberdeau or something along those lines. When I say I’ve been a fan since Day 1 they at least believe me… and have a look of pity on their face. My friends and family like to give me a hard time about being a Panthers fan, especially with our best memories as a team happening back in ‘96. But most of my friends are Habs or Leafs fans, so they don’t have much room to talk since the Panthers joined the league. I don’t know another single Panthers fan in my entire province. The sports clothing shop I’ve been going to since I was a kid knows me as “The Panthers guy”.

Ryan - People are usually like, “Uhhhh, ok.... why?” or “How did that happen?” or even, “Man that sucks!” Friends give me a ribbing, mostly because of the ineptitude of the franchise the last 20-some years. I do not know any other Panther fans in any of my social circles or family.

Col. Bob - Turns out the year I decided to become a Panthers fan was the year the Panthers went to the Cup finals, so I got accused of being a bandwagon jumper. Family and friends are between supportive to apathetic.

Have you ever been to any games?

APF - In 2010 with my wife’s family, and whilst we were on Vancouver Island, we travelled over to Vancouver for a night to see the Canucks play the Oilers in a pre-season game (we were there in September). This was when during the Sedins era – and I enjoyed the experience of seeing Ice Hockey live for the first time (albeit in the nosebleed section). Just watching the game live was awesome, as all live sport is generally better than on TV just due to the atmosphere. My best mate is still gutted that I have gotten to see the Canucks live before him. For a few years Kerry Goulet brought a USA vs Canada hockey tour to Australia (which he has done a few times), but this time Adelaide was on the stop list. The teams were made up of AHL level players, a few fringe NHL players (ex-Panthers Scott Darling and Nolan Yonkman have played). I have seen it both time it has come to Adelaide

NDP - I have been to quite a few games. I’ve been to 5 in Florida and maybe about 10 or so in Minnesota. The first game I remember was a 4 to 2 loss in 2007 against the Wild. I was going to go see them play San Jose in March of 2019, but my wife and I ended up going to Germany instead. I try to get to at least one game every year. The most recent game against the Wild stands out to me because it was the first time the Panthers had ever beaten them on the road in regulation. Let’s just say that I was a pretty happy person amongst many unhappy people.

Brent - I have been to 3 Panthers games in my life, 2 home games and one game in Calgary. The game against Calgary, on January 4th, 2007, was my first Panthers game and first NHL game ever. My best friend lived in Calgary at the time and I spent a week there, and he managed to get tickets for us from his boss, who had amazing seats a few rows from the glass in one of the corners. I wore my navy Jay Bouwmeester jersey to the game, one of only 2 Panthers jerseys I could see in the entire Saddledome. Going to my seats I was treated to handfuls of popcorn and M&M’s being thrown at me, a partially full can of Pepsi, and numerous people yelling obscenities at me casting aspersions about my sexual orientation. They decided to put Alex Auld in net that night instead of Ed Belfour, which was incredibly disappointing since people tell me I look somewhat like Ed Belfour. In true Panther style they gave up a 4-2 lead with less than 4 minutes left in the game and lost in OT. During Easter Break in April 2015, I saw Florida play Tampa Bay and Montreal on consecutive nights. Florida lost both games, but it was an amazing experience to finally see a home game, and to see Jaromir Jagr play in person! I also got to meet fellow LBC’ers OldDave and Todd.

Ryan - I’ve been to four home games in Florida, three down on the glass during a week-long vacation there, and another in a club box. I’ve seen them play in Philly (which I live near) about 10 times, as recently as February. First time I saw them was back when I was about 17, so quite a while ago, in Philadelphia. The game that stands out the most for me was the home opener where I had access to a club box thanks to LBC and Donny Rivette.

Col. Bob - Never attended a game. Philadelphia would be about a two-hour ride with Washington being probably a three-hour drive, so attending a game in person is not that high a priority right now.

Dayzero - I get to see the team twice a year when they come to Ottawa. I moved here in 2005, but it probably wasn’t until 2014 that I started attending the games regularly each year. Prior to moving to Ottawa, I had only seen the team once, in 1997 I believe, in a 4-1 exhibition win over the Capitals. The game was played in Halifax, NS where I was going to university at the time.

Favourite player(s)?

APF - My favourite all-time Panther is Roberto Luongo – he was just an amazing goalie for both the Panthers and Canucks, but the fact that he speaks so highly of Florida and is their biggest advocate, that is a bonus. I also feel that having Luongo made the Panthers relevant, and at least gave us some presence in the league. In today’s team, I really like Barkov and Huberdeau – they are both just so skilled and have really started to come on as elite players. Back in the early days of when I followed the team, I liked Pavel Bure, Stephen Weiss, Olli Jokinen, Nathan Horton and David Booth. Mainly because they seemed to be our best players and the ones that in my limited knowledge of the sport at the time, were the players I heard most about.

NDP - The first player that I remember really liking was Johan Garpenlov. Of course, I also liked Niedermayer, Skrudland, Straka, Svehla, Barnes, Mellanby, and Vanbiesbrouck. Always liked Garpenlov a little more though. My favorite player of all time happens to be a former Panther – Pavel Bure. I think it’s pretty obvious why – the guy could score like crazy. I love how he played. He’s the reason I wore #10. As far as recent/current players, I’ll say Barkov. If you just watch Barkov, and I mean really watch him, he’s one of the most skilled players in the league.

Brent - I never watched hockey before the Panthers came along. John Vanbiesbrouck quickly became my favourite player, and to this day is still my favourite player of all time. I was devastated when he went to Philadelphia, and followed his career closely after that. Scott Mellanby would be a close second, and after that some of my favourite Panthers ever, and technically from any team, are guys like Ray Whitney, Roberto Luongo, Pavel Bure, and Robert Svehla. Vanbiesbrouck’s helmet was the key factor at first, but his high level of play, especially being 5’8”, was what really drew me to him.

Ryan - Billy Lindsay just embodies what the old team mentality was like. A plugger who bounced around but found a home in the NHL because he busted his ass every shift. Love that he’s still involved with the franchise. Stephen Weiss, awesome two-way player. If he had anyone surrounding him in his time with FLA, he would’ve been an all-star. Real shame to see his career end with his injuries. Roberto Luongo - nothing needs to be said here. He’s the best player to ever wear a Cats sweater. Jonathan Huberdeau is one of few players in the NHL with his skill level, and watching him mature into the player he is today has been really enjoyable. I hope he stays a Cat. Vincent Trocheck. Miss him already. Guy was all heart and soul.

Col. Bob - I have a #34 jersey for Vanbiesbrouk. That Cup final team always held a close place in my heart. I also liked Ray Sheppard and was very bitter about that trade. As for the current team, it is more wait and see right now. If the team can trade Trocheck, is any player untouchable?

DayZero - I asked this question, but I myself dislike trying to pick favourites lol. Bure was fun to watch. I remember being a fan of Martin Straka and Victor Kozlov. Luongo of course, but I’ve always been a fan of our goaltenders, save a few (pun not intended but I’ll take it), the living legend that is Jagr, and more currently Barkov and Huberdeau.

Any least favourite players?

APF - I generally don’t dislike any players who have played for the Panthers however there have been a few that have frustrated me either in the play/consistency of play or how they exited the Panthers. Jacob Markstrom frustrated me the most as he could make outstanding saves but just as easily let in a soft goal, and he too often got lit up by the opposition.

Todd Bertuzzi frustrated me – I was excited that we were able to get him in a trade and thought that he might be able to play some great hockey for the Panthers which didn’t eventuate when he got injured. I was disappointed in the manner in which Reilly Smith left the Panthers, as I felt like as inconsistent as he could be, he was still a productive Panther player – and whilst I understand why we traded him, it was disappointing that it still cost us Jonathan Marchessault. Similarly I was disappointed in how Kris Versteeg played himself out of Florida

NDP - No, it’s not Keith Yandle! There are some former players that I when I think about them, I get upset for reasons that aren’t entirely their fault. For example, many of the players that they gave up on way too early. I’ll say Reimer, Bolland, and Bjugstad. Now, all three did some decent things for the Panthers, but Reimer and Bjugstad were frustratingly inconsistent and Bolland had such a horrible contract. I also want to give a shout out to Len Barrie. In NHL 2002, for whatever reason, he was the captain of the Panthers. That always pissed me off so I’ll put his name here.

Brent - Lots of players have drawn the ire of fans, but some of my most disliked players of all time (either due to poor play, poor attitude or not living up to expectations) are Branislav Mezei, Chris Wells, Dave Bolland, James Reimer, Jani Hurme and Alex Auld.

Ryan - No least favorite players really. It’s hard to judge players that way when you really have no grasp of their situations a lot of the time.

Col. Bob - Sean Burke. Really did not like that signing.

DayZero - I’m with other people here in that this is less about disliking a player for who they are but more being frustrated by what they did, or didn’t do, while they were here, be it their own fault or not. Alex Auld, Sean Burke, Todd Bertuzzi, and (yes, I’ll say it) at times Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg.

Any other pertinent or interesting stories relating to the team or being a fan that you would like to share?

APF - I am staunchly against the Panthers ever being relocated from Florida. I know that we are derided for having a small fan base, and low crowds numbers however I feel that this is a by-product of not having a consistent winning product on the ice. The whole build it and they will come mantra holds true I believe, as if the Panthers consistently made the playoffs then the crowds would be there in droves

NDP - I was in attendance when the Panthers and Capitals had the longest shootout in NHL history.

Brent - Nothing I can think of.

Ryan - I just want to see the new ownership remain, continue their great work with the community, and watch this club finally become a contender. The window with their premier talent is running out. Now’s the time.

Col. Bob - I got nothing.

DayZero - I’ve related the only other interesting stories I might have in other posts on LBC, which were about going to games here in Ottawa. I brought my younger son to a Panthers game when he was two weeks old and ended up sitting next to, and discussing Dale Tallon and the organization with, McKenzie Weegar’s parents. I’ve also sat next to Luongo’s family (there was a bunch of them) and I saw Borgstrom’s first NHL game.