By Alain Poupart for floridapanthers.com
The Panthers clearly were serious when they said a while back that it was time the organization honored its past.
The movement started last March with the unveiling of the South Florida Hockey Den of Honor presented by ADT in the concourse area of the 100 level at the BankAtlantic Center. It continued in July with the hiring of original Panthers players Brian Skrudland and Gord Murphy to the front office and coaching staff, respectively — it should be pointed out that both of those were solid moves on their own.
The next step came tonight with Bill Torrey Tribute Night as the Panthers hosted the New York Islanders.
“Together with our owner, Cliff Viner, we’ve been talking for some time about honoring someone who really made a difference for this franchise and the South Florida community,” said Panthers President & Chief Operating Officer Michael Yormark. “Obviously we thought about some of our past players, coaches and general managers, but when it came down to it, we thought no one was more deserving than Bill Torrey.”
Torrey certainly has done an awful lot for the Panthers franchise, and right from the start.
He was the franchise’s original president, the man most responsible for putting together the first Panthers team, a team that would reach the Stanley Cup Finals in only its third year.
It remains an unprecedented feat in North American professional sports.
During his long association with the Panthers, Torrey also has served as general manager and currently is the team’s alternate governor.
Torrey is an icon in NHL circles and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builders Category in 1995 for his role as the architect of the New York Islanders teams that won four consecutive Stanley Cups in the early 1980s.
It’s therefore only fitting that Torrey will be honored when the Panthers are playing against the Islanders, even if it might create some mixed emotions for Torrey’s sons and grandchildren. All of them live in Long Island, but will be attending the festivities honoring their dad/granddad.
“I’m sure they had to pick an Islanders game,” Torrey said. “It’s special obviously. I started both teams. Both teams have had their struggles lately, but hopefully both are on their way up.”
Among the plans for the evening is the raising of an individual tribute banner for Torrey. He will become the first member of the Panthers organization honored that way, although Yormark said there will be more to come.
Also as part of the ceremony was a South Florida Hockey Den of Honor case dedication, in-game tribute and more.
When he was told about the plans to honor him, Torrey said he tried to talk Viner and Yormark out of it.
“Obviously, I was surprised and elated,” he said. “I told Cliff Viner and Michael, you don’t have to do that. I’m very happy to be contributing to the team any way I can.”
Now 76, Torrey still plays an important role with the Panthers.
His biggest contribution of late has been the general manager search that eventually ended with Dale Tallon being hired, a move that re-energized the franchise and increased its credibility throughout the league.
Torrey also represents the Panthers at league meetings and during training camp he served as a consultant for Tallon.
The Panthers’ new GM made it clear at the press conference to announce his hiring how he felt about Torrey.
“He’s been an idol of mine my whole life,” Tallon said. “Other than the bowtie, I really respect everything that he does.”
Torrey has done enough in hockey that no one would blame him if he decided to retire. But he joked that he’s too close to the arena not to be involved.
“I enjoy what I’m doing,” he said. “It’s good. If I want to take a day off, Dale gives me one occasionally. My health is still good. My brain is still good, I think.”
On the night he’s honored, one would expect Torrey to wear his trademark bowtie. Regardless, it promises to be a memorable evening.
“It will be a special night when the entire Florida Panthers organization honors a hockey legend and wonderful man in Bill Torrey,” said Viner. “Bill has become a great friend and everyone in this organization owes him a great debt of gratitude for what he has given to the Panthers franchise. I’m sure Saturday, Oct. 23 will be an evening that none of us will ever forget, and we hope that Bill will cherish these memories for the rest of his life.”
Said Torrey: “I’m sure I’ll be very thrilled and I just hope the home team wins.”
And the home team did just that, pulling off the 4-3 victory thanks to a goal from forward Radek Dvorak with 6:32 remaining in the game.