Den of Honor: The Florida Panthers Get It Right

I have been a very harsh critic of the Panthers over the past five or six years because I give a shit about the team when nobody in management for years clearly did. As a fan, it hurts to watch your team, the team’s heritage, and the fans be treated indifferently and poorly. We have new people running the team — make no mistake, while Alan Cohen is still the actual owner, he has removed himself from operating the team. My point is that after we got new owners, I had high hopes something might be done to make our building seem like a hockey building. I’ll be honest, even after my meeting with Stu I didn’t expect any huge change to happen. I am pleased to report I was wrong.I will start by saying: these guys got it right. In a big way. A grand-slam home-run. What they’ve done is as good as or better than anything I’d have done if I were personally in charge. This was done like a real fan would have done it. I have nothing bad to say about it. Nothing.

Eighteen selected photos are on my Flickr page. There is also a link to a full gallery of nearly 70 of the 160 photos I’ve taken but please be advised this is VERY HIGH BANDWIDTH so please read the size information posted before clicking on the thumbnails. The above photo is one provided by the Panthers at the event to everyone in attendance.

Season ticket holders who renewed got an email inviting them to a special event. As is typical, we didn’t all get the email, but our group watches out for each other on these things, so a copy was forwarded to me. We all RSVP’d and Friday we got the second email confirming our reservation (oddly, I got that one). At 230pm we all met in front of the BankAtlantic Center for this event which we assumed was both the autograph session and the unveiling because they strongly hinted that we’d want to stay around until the game started. As it turns out it was just the autograph session. That’s not a complaint at all, just an observation of what people seemed to expect versus what happened. We were let through in small groups, with Kodak handing each of us the above photo to get signed. I kept the photo and had a hat signed instead. There were maybe 700 people in line so I was glad to be in the first two dozen or I might still be there 🙂

It was fantastic seeing some of the old guys again. First up was Scott Mellanby (he of the rat trick), then we had Mike Hough, Brian Skrudland (our first captain and amazing locker room leader), Doug MacLean (coach who took us to the cup finals), John Jakopin, Peter Worrell, Bill Lindsay (my favourite all-time Panther), and Chris Wells. Bill Torrey and Scott Tinkler were no-shows or at least hadn’t arrived when we went through the line though their absence from the photo suggests other matters had arrived. John Vanbiesbrouck wanted to attend but the team he’s coaching is in a playoff run and he couldn’t attend.

We were threatened repeatedly against taking photos by a guy who threatened to take our memory cards if we tried to take a photo, though I have no idea why he was so rude and pompous. The rule seemed silly — I mean what’s the harm in taking pictures as long as you don’t slow the line by trying to be part of the photo?

I thanked each one of the players for coming, had some extra words for a few of the guys, and wanted to make sure that they knew we all really appreciated them. I know some fans aren’t so nice and feel entitled to things. One player asked me why I was thanking him and I told him “because every night you were on the ice you busted your ass and never gave up” — and that is why the fans like me remember that team so fondly. They didn’t quit.

It’s important that the players know we old-time fans care and appreciate their efforts. I was especially worried about Chris Wells who is a really nice guy, but many people dislike him because we traded some great players to get him, but I remind all of you that it’s not his fault. He didn’t make the trade. He came here and played to the best of his abilities — and he was a decent face-off guy — and you cannot hate him because of a stupid trade by management. Not. His. Fault.

Anyway, we all got armbands and our tickets punched so we could leave for a very early dinner. Karen, Evan, Shane, and I detoured briefly by CompUSA for Karen to look at netbooks (blech). Then we went to dinner where eleven of us ate at Lucille’s: Me, Karen, Evan, Brenda, Shane, Lizzie, John, Liz, Dave, Kathy, and William. After dinner we returned to the arena, and an absurdly long line of people trying to get back in because of their check-in system. We got in without much trouble and just a bit of waiting. And we were off to the Den of Honor after we all met in front of Pantherland. I have been commenting over at my message boards that I was optimistic that the Den of Honor might be okay because it was shaping up nicely (albeit no content just cases and such) and the colours and such were all nice. So we cautiously optimistic.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it an almost perfect 10. Yeah, that good. You’ll need to see the full gallery for the proper effect, but the Flickr gallery will give you an idea. We came in from the anti-clockwise direction and you have local jerseys on the near and far wall of the Den of Honor — which, incidentally, spans four sections or the entire width of a food court. It’s big. The place is littered with sixteen 42″ LCD TVs (Insignia, the Best Buy house brand). From overhead there are lights that show the Den of Honor, Panther, and ADT sponsor logos alternatively on the carpet. There is not sponsor overkill here and that pleases me, and I hope it stays that way.

Overhead there are red lights, spotlights, and they shine down on a rubber ice-rink mat designed in the proper shade of Panther blue. It’s bedecked out with hockey face-off circles and goal markings. Very nice. Excellent in fact. The carpet is the high-traffic blue squares so they can easily replace them instead of using duct tape (don’t start me). This is something all fans can be proud of. It’s just really nice to see. There are cases full of memorabilia with very creative displays including one with a set of goal pads, a net, and so on. All this is so hard to explain. There are minor league and all-star jerseys from some of our players. There are jerseys representing all the different ones our team has worn. I have a minor quibble that all the cases have stickers with a description of what’s in the case. I am 6 feet tall and some of them are so high that it’s hard for me to see them. They need to put one inside the case on the white background so the text is easily visible, black on silver background in a low-light environment, 8 feet up from the ground is hard to read. Since they were just stickers, this may only be a temporary thing until they have a permanent sign made: I’m not sure.

I spoke to Stu Siegel and Cliff Viner (I’d never met Cliff before) and I was filmed by some random media person while I did so, but thankfully there were no microphones since I hate being on TV/Radio/etc. Josh L grabbed a picture of me which is included on the group at Flickr. Make sure you view both groups as they aren’t all the same photos!

I ran separately into Chris Wells, Brian Skrudland, and Peter Worrell who were mingling with the crowd, all of whom I spoke to giving them so words of thanks. Pete’s much larger than he was before. He’s really great with all kids there, so he’s a gentle giant I suppose. I saw Randy Moller for a second. I ran into Doug MacLean and had my photo taken — he and I had talked once or twice whilst he was coach and I think he may remember me from that. I saw Yormark, but avoided him not wanting to ruin the moment. Then after spending about 40 minutes there, went to our seats. On a strictly personal level, the one player I missed was Trevor Kidd. I missed his presence from the displays. I missed Hagman too, but as much as I admired his efforts, he’s not one of our all-time greats. Kidd is.

All the team management needs to do is run Michael Yormark out of town and most of what people hate and the root cause of all that everyone hates will be gone: believe me, despite my words, I am far from his harshest critic. I dislike him for quality reasons as opposed to silly ones. I am not a fan or believer in words from the Panthers organization because since Cogen left, the words have been meaningless lies and unfulfilled promises. At least now, perhaps with Stu Siegel and Cliff Viner that may change. I sincerely and fervently hope so.

(I have used the American spelling “honor” throughout this post because that is how the team spells it.)

EDIT: 3-25-10 cleaned it up and added more stuff to give it ‘feel’

Leave a Reply