Good morning and welcome to "Cats & Coffee," a weekly segment in which we get you caffeinated with an exciting look at the week ahead for the Florida Panthers.
Jared McCann still remembers what it was like to put on his first set of hockey gear.
"I remember getting my first helmet and stuff like that for Christmas when I was about three or four years old," McCann told FloridaPanthers.com. "It's definitely something to remember."
On Saturday, McCann helped pass along that special feeling to nearly 100 children ages 5-9 as the third season of Florida's "Learn to Play" program kicked off with a gear fitting session hosted by Pure Hockey at the BB&T Center. As groups of excited kids funneled into the arena, McCann was there to greet them, pose for photos and help them pick out the perfect set of equipment.
"It's awesome to see a hockey market growing," McCann said. "I really feel like it's going to be huge in the next couple years. The owners and players have done a great job donating their time, working with the kids and getting them excited about the sport."
In conjunction with the NHL, NHLPA and USA Hockey, the primary goal of the "Learn to Play" program is to create the next generation of hockey players and fans by providing local children easy and affordable access to the sport. Each participant in the program receives six weeks of on-ice training with Panthers Alumni and USA Hockey Certified Coaches as well as a full set of hockey equipment that they will use during the program and keep at its conclusion.
The total cost of entry is just $175.
"It's a huge opportunity for us to get them in at a low rate, to get them the experience, to get them to try hockey and to put a stick in their hands and see what happens," Panthers Director of Community Relations John Colombo said. "We want to make fans, but we also want to make players. We want to grow the game down here. The key for us to have players that really enjoy the game. This is the first step in their hockey careers."
In addition to the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs, five other rinks are also participating in the program, including Glacier Ice & Snow Arena in Pompano Beach, Kendall Ice Arena in Miami, Palm Beach Ice Works in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Skate Zone in Lake Worth and Fort Myers Skatium, the first rink in the Panthers program located on the West Coast of Florida.
"This should be a lot of fun, for sure," McCann said.
For more information, please visit FloridaPanthers.com/LearnToPlay.
READING TOUR CONTINUES
You definitely don't want to miss this week's stop on the summer reading tour.
With three successful stops already in the books (pun intended), the Panthers inaugural reading tour will continue at the Southwest Regional Library in Pembroke Pines on Tuesday. The event will run from 2:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m., with plenty of fun activities for kids of all ages to enjoy.
In conjunction with Broward County Libraries and the Broward Public Library Foundation, the Panthers are visiting a total of 11 area libraries from June-August, with special guests, alumni and personalities serving as guest readers at each stop.
This week's guest? Former Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad!
At just 22 years old, Ekblad is already considered one of the top offensive defensemen in the league. With a career-high 16 goals this past season, he not only led all Panthers blueliners in goal scoring, but also finished in a tie for fourth in the NHL.
Not bad, right? But we also hear he's a pretty good reader! For more information about the tour, please visit https://www.nhl.com/panthers/community/readingtour.
CATS CLIP OF THE WEEK
Nick Bjugstad recently joined NHL Tonight to talk about the Panthers' outlook in 2018-19.
Video: Nick Bjugstad on last season, adding Mike Hoffman
CATS IN THE COMMUNITY
COLD COFFEE (IN CASE YOU MISSED IT)
- Suites, Group Tickets and Mini Plans for the 2018-19 season are on sale now!
- Volleyball, bacon and the boys? Alexander Petrovic has his weekends figured out.
- The Panthers signed defenseman Julian Melchiori on a one-year, two-way contract.
- Owen Tippett, the 10th overall pick in 2017, is expected to compete for a spot on the Panthers.
- After inking a one-year extension, Alexander Petrovic is aiming to have the best season of his career.
- Ian McCoshen joined this week's episode of the Territory Talk podcast to discuss his rookie season, summer and more!