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Fond Farewells

by Randy Moller / Florida Panthers
Center Stephen Weiss returned to South Florida for the first time on Dec. 10th. Weiss spent 11 seasons in a Panthers uniform to become the all-time franchise leader in games played and assists (Getty Images)

Through the first 30-plus games of this NHL season, we have witnessed not one, not two, but three emotional returns of “Franchise” players to their original, or long tenured team, but wearing a different jersey.

Long time Senator’s captain Daniel Alfredsson returned to Canada’s Capital on December 1st as his Detroit Red Wings squared off against “Alfy’s” former teammates, the Ottawa Senators. The script read like a Hollywood sad blockbuster… 17yrs, 1,178 games, 1,108 points, including 100 career playoff points in a Senator jersey, longest tenured captain in the NHL during that time, decorated charity and humanitarian leader, etc, etc. The video tribute, the extended ovation brought back countless memories for all who witnessed north and south of the boarder. And the Great Swede didn’t disappoint, collecting a goal and an assist in the Red Wings win after a self described nervous and unsteady start.  

Then last week (Dec. 10), the Calgary Flames mirrored the same accolades to their long time leader, Jarome Iginla. It was strange witnessing “Iggy” tearing up and down right wing on Wednesday night, not wearing the flaming “C” but the Gold and Black Bruin.

The Panthers turned the page on another note in their history after Stephen Weiss, Florida’s all-time leader in games (654) and assists (249) and second with 394 points twirled around the Lexus Rink at the BB&T Center this past Tuesday as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.

I remember Weiss’s Draft Day here in the once called National Car Rental Center, June 23rd, 2001. A scrawny 18-year old Ontario native scampered up on the stage after being selected 4th overall, after Atlanta selected Ilya Kovalchuk, Ottawa grabbed Jason Spezza, and the Lightning mysteriously fell in love with Alexander Svitov.

South Florida fans embraced Weiss, along with Jay Bowmeester, and the agnatic Nate “The Great” Horton as the young guns developed before our adoring eyes. Weiss hustled and humbly led a Cats squad through 10 years, and a mirage of coaches, GM’s and teammates, and made lasting friendships with them all. No. 9 finally tasted playoff action two years ago, as Fox Sports zeroed in on the gapped tooth Weiss  smile at the clinching conclusion of game No. 82. Always one to donate his time for charity causes, and promoting the Panther “brand”, Weiss accepted the warm welcome from the Panther faithful this past Tuesday, as “new” young gunners Nick Bjugstad, Sasha Barkov, and Erik Gudbranson led the charge in Florida’s stunning comeback win in the shootout.

Being a sports fan is all about being in the “moment”. We all live in a microwave world, where we want it hot, and we want it now! But these past month’s tributes made us pause, reflect, appreciate, yet ultimately move on. I’m sure all three players will keep a little spot in their hearts from their humbling NHL starts.

I know we do…

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