Good morning and welcome to "Cats & Coffee," a weekly segment, presented by Koffee Kult, in which we serve up an exciting look at what's on deck for your Florida Panthers. Like our friends at Koffee Kult, this forecast serves up only the best -- so sit back, sip and enjoy our latest brew of news, notes and information!
The Florida Panthers opened their doors to more than 40 veterans and their families this past week, welcoming past honorees of the organization's "Heroes Among Us" program to kick back, relax and enjoy more than a few delicious deep-fried pastries to celebrate National Donut Day.
A tradition since 1938, National Donut Day was created by The Salvation Army in Chicago as a way to honor their members who served donuts to soldiers during World War I. The earliest of these donuts were made using helmets as makeshift bowls, but nevertheless were a huge hit. In fact, the tasty treats were so loved that they were served again in WW II and the Vietnam War.
"I think it's really amazing," said Panthers Chief Operating Officer Sean McCaffrey, a West Point graduate in 2004 who served 5 1/2 years as an infantry officer. "To do it on June 7, with June 6 yesterday being D-Day, it was even more amazing to have a lot of veterans, including World War II veterans, here. I really think there's a lot of shared values and a shared mission between the veteran community and what they did overseas and what The Salvation Army does here."
One of the primary pillars of the organization ever since owner Vincent Viola, who graduated from West Point in 1977, purchased the team in 2013, the "Heroes Among Us" program has honored over 200 veterans since its inception. At each and every one of the Panthers' 41 home games throughout the season, a serviceman or women is honored prior and during the contest.
Each of these heroes is also given a video tribute, which always leads to a wave of cheers.
"To honor a veteran or active-duty servicemember at each home game, it's really an honor to be a part of," said Panthers Community Relations Coordinator Matt Smith. "It's shown, by the reaction from fans, that it not only means a lot to the organization, but also to the fans and the community as well. They're often overwhelmed by the generosity and thanks they receive."
In addition to celebrating "National Donut Day," The Salvation Army also marked the occasion by unveiling four new Panthers-branded emergency response vehicles to aid in local disaster recovery. These mobile feeding units have the capability to serve more than 2,000 meals per day each and were already used to deliver 750,000 meals after Hurricane Michael in October.
The Salvation Army was able to purchase these vehicles thanks to a $250,000 donation from the Panthers -- one of four charitable organizations that received a portion of a $1 million hurricane-relief pledge made by ownership during the long recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma in 2017.
"That was amazing," Salvation Army Florida Divisional Emergency Disaster Services Director Steven Hartsook said. "The ability to utilize that generous donation and equip ourselves with some new equipment, it means the world to us. These are expensive vehicles. That generosity is really helping us to build our capacity and be ready for the next disaster that may occur in this community."
Video: The Salvation Army 2019 National Donut Day
Panthers forward prospect Aleksi Heponiemi was honored this past weekend for his outstanding rookie season in Liiga, the premier professional hockey league back home in his native Finland.
After producing 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) in 50 games with league runner-up Karpat, the 20-year-old finished behind only 2019 projected top-two draft pick Kaapo Kakko in Rookie of the Year voting, earning 11 first-place votes to Kakko's 33. No other player earned one vote for first.
At 5-foot-11 and 154 pounds, Heponiemi, a second-round pick in 2017 who signed his entry-level contract with Florida on May 15, led all rookies in scoring, besting Kakko by eight points.
"We are thrilled to have agreed to terms with Aleksi," Panthers President of Hockey Operations & General Manager Dale Tallon said in a release after Heponiemi's signing. "He is an immensely skilled and dynamic player with excellent vision and hockey IQ. Aleksi has been an elite player at every level and a leader on winning teams on the junior and international stages."
Heponiemi also helped Finland win gold at the 2019 IIHF U20 World Junior Championship in January, registering a tournament-leading nine points (three goals, six assists) in the process.
As a part of the organization's commitment to the NHL's "Hockey Is For Everyone" campaign and in support of Pride Month, Panthers staff members and their families will be walking in the Stonewall Pride Parade on Saturday, June 15 in Wilton Manors.
We encourage all fans to come out and join us in this wonderful celebration of acceptance. The parade line up begins at 1:30 p.m., with all floats in place by 3:00 p.m. The parade will start at 4 p.m. from the south end of Wilton Drive.
If you'd like to attend and support the parade, more information can be found HERE.
SECURE YOUR EXPERIENCE
It's always more fun to take in a Panthers game with a group.
Whether you're spending the night out with your family, friends or co-workers, the more hands around you to high five after a breakaway goal or jaw-dropping save, the better. Starting at 10 tickets, group experiences are on sale now for the upcoming and ultra-hyped 2019-20 season.
Aside from being surrounded by good company, a group outing also nets the following:
• Discounted Tickets • Welcome Message on the Jumbotron
• Access to Exclusive Fan Experiences
• Fundraising Opportunities
• Parking Included in Each Individual Ticket
• & More!
Like most ticket offers, there's benefits to jumping on these tickets sooner rather than later as well. By placing a deposit right now, you'll land a spot on the Panthers priority list, which means that you'll be given first priority to the season's best games and most-desirable seat locations.
So gather a group together and head on over to FloridaPanthers.com/groups for more information on how to get started.
CATS CLIP OF THE WEEK
Head over to the Museum of Discovery & Science in Fort Lauderdale to join the Panther Prowl!
Video: Museum of Discovery and Science Panther Prowl
CATS IN THE COMMUNITY
On the latest episode of the Territory Talk podcast, Doug Plagens and Jameson Olive are joined by ESPN's NHL Draft & Prospect Analyst Chris Peters to discuss Florida's highly-rated prospect pool and the organization's numerous options heading into the 2019 NHL Draft later this month.
COLD COFFEE (IN CASE YOU MISSED IT)
-- Our Second Annual Summer Reading Tour begins this week! Check out the full schedule of dates and locations at FloridaPanthers.com/ReadingTour.
-- From best goal to best beard, vote for your favorite Panthers in the NHL's Fan Choice Awards.
-- The Panthers have committed to privately financing the restoration and revitalization of the historic War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale.
-- The Panthers and Miami Lighthouse for the Blind & Visually Impaired are making it easier for underserved children to get glasses.
-- What's Jonathan Huberdeau up to this offseason? Find out in the latest installment of the "Summer Plans" series.
-- The Museum of Discovery & Science is helping bring the Florida panther to life with AR technology.
-- REWIND: Sam Montembeault couldn't have asked for a better mentor during his rookie campaign.
-- The Panthers have found their assistant coaches, including a few familiar faces.