Good morning and welcome to "Cats & Coffee," a weekly segment presented by Community Coffee in which we get you caffeinated with an exciting look at the week ahead for the Florida Panthers.
Whether you were a lifelong fan or a first-time skater, there was a little something for everyone this past weekend at the seventh annual Hockeyfest celebration at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs.
"This is an event that the local hockey community looks forward to every year," Panthers IceDen General Manager Keith Fine said. "We've had an unbelievable turnout. It's a great chance for us to show the community what's new and what's coming. It's also a great way to promote our world-class facility and let people know what we do here."
Hockeyfest featured exclusive demo opportunities from top equipment manufacturers, including Bauer, CCM, Warrior and True, as well as numerous off-ice activates such as street hockey, music, inflatables and food trucks.
The most popular attraction of the afternoon, however, was a special meet-and-greet table featuring Panthers stars Aleksander Barkov and Reilly Smith, who happily took turns signing autographs and snapping photos with fans.
"I'm excited to see our fans right now," Barkov said. "It's been a while [since the season ended], but they remember us. It's good to see that hockey's still growing here in South Florida. I love it here. I love the fans here. I love the organization. I love everything here. I wouldn't change anything here. I'm sure we'll have even more people here over the next couple summers."
In addition to Barkov and Smith, Stanley C. Panther, television analyst Randy Moller and radio broadcaster Bill Lindsey could also be found meeting and greeting with fans throughout the day.
"It's exciting to see the support we have right now," Smith said. "There's definitely a buzz in Florida. The sport of hockey is growing and I think it's on the up and up. I'm excited to be a part of it.
"The support these fans have given our players is awesome. I'm happy to be a part of this. It feels like it's growing right now and you can see it with all of the support we have here today."
Video: 2017 HockeyFest
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP UPDATE
The quest for a gold medal is officially underway for Panthers Nick Bjugstad (USA), Michael Matheson (CAN), Jason Demers (CAN) and Denis Malgin (SUI) at the 2017 IIHF World Championship in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany.
Matheson and Demers have helped lead Canada to an early 2-0 record at the annual tournament, which runs from May 5-21, combining for eight shots, one goal and a plus-three rating from the blue line.
As for Florida's forwards, Bjugstad recorded his first point of the tournament with an assist in USA's 7-2 victory over Denmark on Sunday, while Malgin has yet to find the scoresheet through his first two games with Switzerland.
The full schedule for Panthers at World Championship this week is as follows: Monday, May 8 Belarus vs. Canada (Matheson/Demers) 10:15 a.m.
USA (Bjugstad) vs. Sweden 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, May 9
Switzerland (Malgin) vs. France 2:15 p.m.
Wednesday, May 10
USA (Bjugstad) vs. Italy 10:15 a.m.
Switzerland (Malgin) vs. Belarus 10:15 a.m.
Thursday, May 11
Canada (Matheson/Demers) vs. France 2:15 p.m.
Saturday, May 13
Latvia vs. USA (Bjugstad) 6:15 a.m.
Canada (Matheson/Demers) vs. Switzerland (Malgin) 2:15 p.m.
Sunday, May 14
Slovakia vs. USA (Bjugstad) 10:15 a.m.
Switzerland (Malgin) vs. Finland 2:15 p.m.
What is this, a crossover edition of Cats & Coffee?
The worlds of horse racing and hockey collided this past weekend when Always Dreaming, a New York-based colt partially owned by Panthers Owner, Chairman and Governor Vincent Viola, won the 143rd Kentucky Derby in very convincing fashion.
So what's next for Florida's new favorite horse?
The second leg of Always Dreaming's Triple Crown bid will take place at the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, May 20.
The Panthers will be hosting a special Open House on Saturday, May 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in order to give both current and prospective season seat owners their first opportunity to select new seats for the 2017-18 season.
CATS IN THE COMMUNITY
It might be the offseason, but the Panthers are always active in the community.
COLD COFFEE (IN CASE YOU MISSED IT)
-- The Florida Panthers Foundation Community Champions Grant Program helped create plenty of long-lasting relationships between the team and local charitable organizations this past season.
"We didn't want a situation where we were just cutting checks to people," Panthers President & CEO Matthew Caldwell said. "We really wanted to build relationships with these charitable organizations. We wanted them to believe in us and believe in our brand and what it represents. We wanted them to become part of our family."
-- After missing out on the playoffs, several members of the Panthers are hoping to use this year's World Championship as a positive springboard heading into what is expected to be an exciting 2017-18 season in Sunrise.
"There are some things in my game that I let slip from the last couple years that I'm going to try and find and work on," Panthers defenseman Jason Demers said when asked about his decision to play in the tournament. "I want to win and get that feeling and start my summer off on the right foot."
-- Panthers GM Dale Tallon recently joined NHL Network to discuss the organization's direction.