CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Vincent Trocheck and Keith Yandle caught glimpses of an Amerigol LATAM Cup game at the Florida Panthers' practice facility Friday and enjoyed what they saw.
"It was fun to watch," Trocheck, a Panthers center, said Saturday. "We were surprised how good they are, some really good players, a lot of enthusiasm in the crowd, fun to watch."
More than 400 players on teams from Argentina, Brazil, Chile Colombia, the Falkland Islands, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the United States and Venezuela have gathered at the Panthers' IceDen for the three-day tournament that started Friday and ends Sunday.
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Most of the players come from Latin American and Caribbean countries where ice skating rinks are few, insufficient or nonexistent.
Many of the men's and women's players who live in those countries are inline hockey players who arrived in Florida days before the tournament to adjust from playing on wheels to skate blades.
"It's unbelievable, especially as a kid that grew up rollerblading and playing on rollerblades all the time, it's not an easy transition," Yandle, a Panthers defenseman, said. "It's definitely a different feel, but they're doing what they can with what they have."
While Yandle and Trocheck marveled at the LATAM Cup players, several of the tournament participants and spectators did the same at the Panthers while watching the team's early training camp practices.
"You can just tell just when they're watching us just how excited they were, they're grown men, but they looked like little kids watching adults/NHL guys," Yandle said. "It even boosted the morale of the guys out there, we saw them watching and we stepped up our game a little bit."
Sam Cockwell's face was pressed near the glass Saturday as he watched the Panthers go through a brisk morning practice. Cockwell is a player and spokesman for the Falkland Islands hockey association, which brought two teams to the tournament to represent an island of 3,000 people with no ice rink. The Falklands players and their families flew 15 hours over two days to get to Coral Springs.
"To see this is incredible, the trip has been more than worth it," said Cockwell. "We play in a school gymnasium, we play inline. Our youth team is really dedicated, they live for hockey. They've been here for about 10 days, every day on the ice."
Yandle said he hopes the tournament will help promote hockey in Latin American and Caribbean countries.
"Maybe we can do something to get them a rink down there and get their sport growing even more," Yandle said.
Photos courtesy: Eliot Schechter/Florida Panthers