R.J. Boyd skates recently in a practice at Panthers Development Camp (Glenn Odebralski)
By Yana Loftus-Farren for floridapanthers.com
Despite growing up in the Sunshine State, R.J. Boyd is comfortable on the ice.
Boyd was a talented young athlete, playing both baseball and lacrosse as a child, but it was his involvement in roller hockey that eventually led him down the path of becoming a pro hockey player.
“I played roller hockey and then they built an ice rink near my house so I just decided to switch over,” said Boyd.
The development of the new facility in his hometown of Sarasota, Florida motivated Boyd to join the Florida Eels Ice Hockey organization at the age of 12. According to Eels General Manager Frank Scarpaci, their primary mission is to develop players for college hockey, so when one of their players gets drafted to the NHL it’s considered “icing on the cake.”
Although Boyd got off to a late start in comparison to most hockey players, as a defenseman he possessed the talent, skating ability, speed and size to work his way up the ranks of professional hockey. However when asked during the recent Panthers Development Camp what his biggest difficulty has been in making it to his current standing, Boyd answered honestly.
“Definitely the fact that I haven’t been playing my whole life…A lot of these guys in here have been skating since they were two years old, and they come from a huge family background of hockey," said Boyd. "My parents never played hockey; they were football and volleyball players.”
This is not to say he wasn’t familiar with the game as a child. Growing up in Detroit, Boyd’s father was an avid Red Wings fan and the family often drove throughout the state of Florida to attend Panthers and Lightning games.
In 2007, Boyd took his talents to Cushing Academy in order to further his advancement in hockey. The college preparatory boarding school, located in Massachusetts, is recognized for its prestigious academic program as well as a thriving athletics department. The Cushing ice hockey team has produced a number of notable National Hockey League players including Keith Yandle and Zach Bogosian.
By the time senior year rolled around, Boyd had the stats to catch and hold the attention of professional scouts; he scored four goals and chipped in 18 assists in 31 games during his fourth year at Cushing. It was at that point where his thoughts on hockey as a future changed.
“The Panthers had started talking to me more and I figured I might be drafted," said Boyd. "That eventually changed my vision for my life and what I wanted to pursue in life.”
Soon after the close of the 2010 season, Boyd was selected by the Panthers with the third pick in the seventh round (182 overall). In that moment not only did he get one step closer to realizing his dreams of playing in the NHL, Boyd also made hockey history by becoming the first Florida raised player to be drafted by a Florida team.
After a less than satisfying 2010-2011 season, which he started at Sacred Heart University and finished with the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League, Boyd remains motivated and positive about the future. He was recently traded to the Indiana Ice (also of the USHL), leaving him optimistic for the upcoming season.
“Indiana will be a great team and I hope to win the league in the USHL,” said Boyd.
Although it will be some time before he potentially hits the ice as a Panther, Boyd expressed excitement to return to Florida for several reasons: he will have the chance to represent his home state on the ice and he will once again live in close proximity to his family and friends that reside in the area.
As the Panthers look forward to his potential arrival to South Florida, the excitement is mutual.