Longtime Panthers fans Tonight bug

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Juan Carlos Otero was jet-lagged, anxious, excited and hopeful on Sunday.

The South Florida resident and founder of the Amerigol LATAM Cup hockey tournament sleepwalked his way through the day. He flew across North America to see the Florida Panthers face the Edmonton Oilers in Game 4 and Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. Otero was hoping to watch his beloved Panthers hoist the Cup for the first time in franchise history.

That didn’t happen.

“Being a Panthers fan for 30 years, to me, I would feel worse if they won it on the road and I wasn’t there than if I went and they lost,” said Otero, who took his daughter and her boyfriend on the long treks.

Otero is among a generation of South Floridians who have been faithful fans of the Panthers since the team entered the NHL in 1993. They are now riding an emotional roller coaster after watching Florida go up 3-0 in the best-of-7 Final, and then seeing Edmonton win three straight to force Game 7 at Amerant Bank Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, TVAS, CBC).

The Oilers are the third team in NHL history to force Game 7 after being down 3-0 in the Final. They are trying to become the first team since the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs to win the Cup after trailing 3-0.

Otero hopes history doesn’t repeat itself.

“It’s exciting, but it’s very stressful,” Otero said. “I don’t want to think anything negative, because it’s a possible dream come true. It’s historical with Game 7. I just hope it’s historical in a positive sense.”

Randy Hernandez

Randy Hernandez is also staying positive.

The 25-year-old from Miami and son of Cuban immigrants grew up a Panthers fan while working his way through South Florida’s youth hockey scene to become a forward for Canisius University’s NCAA Division I men’s team.

“I think we’re going to win. You got to believe, right?” said Hernandez, who had 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) in 37 games this season for Canisius. “The crowd is going to be ready. After losing three straight, [the Panthers are] going to do what it takes to be mentally prepared, physically prepared. They’re going to come out, treat it like pros and get the job done.”

Matt Pinchevsky was a 10-year-old sitting in the rafters at the old Miami Arena when he saw Uwe Krupp score in the third overtime to power the Colorado Avalanche to a 1-0 win and a sweep of the Panthers in the 1996 Cup Final.

The Pembroke Pines native got into hockey because of the Panthers. He also played the sport in his driveway with a young, transplanted Canadian neighbor. Pinchevsky has been watching the 2024 Cup Final from Maine, where he is the coach of the University of Southern Maine’s NCAA Division III men’s hockey team.


Through that lens, he wishes the Panthers well on Monday, but said he wouldn’t be heartbroken if Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and company win the Cup and end the 31-year drought since a Canadian team -- the 1993 Montreal Canadiens against the Los Angeles Kings -- won it all.

“I’m rooting for the most impactful, emotional, back-and-forth, hardest game anyone’s ever seen,” said Pinchevsky, the first Black man to guide an NCAA hockey team in more than three decades. “Because that’s important for Panthers fans to see. If they’re going to win it, they need to truly earn it, and that will go further with the fans.

“Edmonton’s going to make them work. Florida’s going to make Edmonton earn it. Everybody’s going to turn it on. That’s what I want to see. That’s what I’m rooting for.”

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