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Panthers get two goalies when contest ends in tie

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will have two new backup practice goaltenders Wednesday after their "Goal of a Lifetime"?competition ended in a tie.

Bill Ruggiero and Dustin Smith, who were chosen as finalists after 65 participants went through drills and shootouts Monday, were declared co-winners after each stopped three of four shootout attempts during the first intermission of the Panthers game against the Montreal Canadiens at BB&T?Center on Tuesday.

Ruggiero and Smith will be on hand when the Panthers practice Wednesday at the arena.

A few of the 65 participants in the Florida Panthers Goal of a Lifetime???contest take part in a drill, including ESPN anchor Linda Cohn. (Courtesy: Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI)

A few of the 65 participants in the Florida Panthers
"Goal of a Lifetime"???contest take part in a drill,
including ESPN anchor Linda Cohn
Photo: Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI
(Click to enlarge)

"Gonna get a good night’s sleep and do our best tomorrow," Ruggiero said during the second intermission. "Just being out there on the ice, it’s a great feeling. Practices, you’ve had so many in your life, but to be out there at an NHL???practice and that next step that they all have and that level of professional attitude, I’m definitely going to enjoy that."

Ruggiero and Smith faced two shootout attempts each from former Panthers players Radek Dvorak and Marco Sturm.

"It was so much fun, being on the ice and being able to try out,"???Smith said. "Obviously exhausting. They put us through the wringer. Today, during the shootout, [there was] so much energy, huge crowd. It was over pretty quick, but a lot of fun and obviously a great experience came out of it."

Ruggiero and Smith were presented Panthers jerseys during a break in the second period, each with his name and number on it: 29 for Ruggiero, 58 for Smith.

Ruggiero, 34, is a former professional/semi-pro goaltender who played for the Johnstown Chiefs of the East Coast Hockey League (2001-02), the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League (2004-05, 2006-07), and the Flint Generals of the International Hockey League (2007-08). Ruggiero lives in Melbourne, Fla.

"I went to [Nashville] Predators camp out of major junior,"???Ruggiero said. "I???was always shooting for the NHL. Obviously this isn’t an NHL???roster, but I’m going to get the experience and you never know what could come out of it. I???might start playing again. I might inspire some kids to keep going. You never know what can happen."

Smith, 27, played for Middle Tennessee State University (2006-09) and has experience practicing with the Predators (2012-13). Smith lives in Nashville.

The Panthers received more than 1,500 applications for the contest, from 42 states and 15 countries, before inviting 65 to compete Monday at BB&T???Center. The participants came from various locations, including 48 from Florida and five from Canada.

The contest was announced March 5, two nights after Panthers goalies Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya were injured in a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Luongo was at the hospital when Montoya was injured in the first minute of the third period; Montoya stayed in the game for more than 10 minutes while the Panthers tried to get clearance from the NHL to allow goaltending coach Robb Tallas to play. Luongo made his way back to BB&T Center, replaced Montoya, and finished the game.

The competition Monday included two 90-minute sessions, run by Florida goaltending coach Robb Tallas, and former Panthers participated as shooters.

"[The best part was]?????????getting to meet a lot of the alumni guys,"?????????Smith said. "Getting to hang out with Tomas Vokoun yesterday, and obviously getting shot on by these guys out here was such a great experience."

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