SUNRISE, Fla. -- There was a time in life when Michael Reed aspired to be a professional hockey player.
In the beginning, Reed, a native of Fort Myers, spent time learning the finer points of the game while playing for the Jr. Panthers at the Panthers IceDen - then known as Incredible Ice -- in Coral Springs, a passion that led him on a journey around North America.
"Everybody tried out for that team," Reed said of the Jr. Panthers. "It was the first Florida team that traveled. We played in Mid-America region, so we would go play games in St. Louis, Wisconsin and Michigan -- all the big team plays with powerhouse players.
"I was the goalie. I remember every once in a while we'd play games at the Office Depot Center (Now the BB&T Center), and at one tournament former Panthers goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck was there. I'm a little guy and Beezer is a little guy, so we played a similar style. At the end of the game, he walked into the locker room and he gave me a signed puck and told me I was good. It was pretty cool to meet one of my idols."
By the time he was 21, Reed had played for six teams, including junior hockey clubs in Massachusetts and Canada. In 2011, he enrolled at Indiana University to pursue a degree in business but never stopped playing, suiting up in 53 games for the Hoosiers while bouncing back and forth between a life between the pipes and one in the classroom.
It was also during his time at Indiana, however, that Reed discovered a new passion -- bourbon.
"That's bourbon country," Reed said with a laugh. "That's pretty much all we drank."
In the basement of the ice hockey house at Indiana University's Bloomington campus, staring at walls draped in Old Western Americana and fiddling with an empty shotgun shell in his hand, Reed came up with the idea for American Barrels Bourbon, a company whose motto is, "Live Free or Die: A True American Spirit."
On a nearby napkin, an inspired Reed sketched what would eventually become the company's iconic bottle - a tall cylinder with glass blown to appear like a rattlesnake wrapped around a shotgun shell, draped with a dog tag to honor the men and women both in and out of service, who defend liberty day in and day out.
Reed nurtured this idea for two years before moving back to Florida in 2013 to begin making his newest dream a reality. He enrolled at Florida Gulf Coast University and once again found himself juggling multiple responsibilities - pre-law classes, getting his company off the ground and, of course, hockey.
As a senior in 2015, Reed backstopped the Eagles to a Division II National Championship, stopping nearly every shot he faced in a 4-1 victory over Liberty University.
"It was a good to hang up my skates and end my career with a ring," said Reed, who still plays the game casually in a local men's league.
In the end, although his dream of playing in the National Hockey League never came to fruition, Reed is now focused solely on making a bourbon that he hopes will be enjoyed in arenas and by hockey fans the world over, starting with the Florida Panthers and a new prime location at the BB&T Center this season.
"We are absolutely thrilled to be working with a former Jr. Panther," Panthers Vice President of Corporate Sponsorships Greg Rieber said. "As an organization, we have the privilege to work and interact on a daily basis with a variety of individuals and companies in numerous business industries.
"So, upon getting to know Michael, learning about his unique story with launching American Barrels Bourbon and the fact that our organization overall now has a renewed commitment to the Jr. Panthers and the development of youth hockey, you can imagine how even more exciting it was for our team to learn that he was at one time a Jr. Panther."
American Barrels started selling its patriotic-fueled bourbon whiskey in August of 2014. It is crafted in Charleston, S.C., where it's filtered through a distinctive, post-barrel, ultrasonic refinement process, and can currently be found on shelves in Florida, Tennessee and Massachusetts.
At the BB&T Center, fans will be introduced the American Barrels brand almost immediately after entering with the arena, with a sponsored bar, one that captures the same American aesthetic that inspired the delicious bourbon's creation, featured just inside the main entrance of the building.
"It was quickly apparent in our initial meeting just how well thought out their strategic plan was with the product's brand identity and positioning," Rieber said. The military influence through the various brand attributes clearly stood out, along with an iconic look and feel that you would naturally expect to see with a craft bourbon, especially a local one. The over-arching thematic is very cool.
"Second, and more importantly, Michael and his team's commitment to military appreciation very much resonated with our entire organization. From the start, they were all incredibly sincere and authentic in their goal of honoring our veterans and active duty soldiers. So, with the Panthers' own, ongoing initiatives towards military appreciation the natural synergies between our two organizations were only further enhanced."
When the Panthers open their regular season against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, Reed, now 25, plans to be at the arena to both take in the action and oversee bar's highly anticipated unveiling. And although he won't be the one manning the crease when the puck drops, the former Jr. Panther has shown that there are plenty of other ways to join the team's extended family.
"We wanted to do something with the Panthers because of the hockey connection and the military connection," said Reed. "We're both interested in giving back to our nation's service me and women and, of course, I'll definitely be at the arena a lot."