New Panthers prospect Adam Sweetland (Photo Credit: Michael York)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
When asked to describe his hometown of Bonavista, a picturesque old fishing community on the northeast tip of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Panther rookie Andrew Sweetland said, “There’s around 4,000 people, and growing up all we did was play hockey.”
While Bonavista is as small as it is remote – history reads that John Cabot discovered Bonavista back in 1497 – the old fishing town is producing an inordinate amount of professional hockey players.
There’s cousin Michael Ryder of the Canadiens, his brother Daniel, Adam Purdy of the Flames, and now Andrew Sweetland of the Panthers.
“There’s a lot of towns bigger than Bonavista,” Sweetland admits. “But (Bonavista) has produced a lot of players.”
The Panthers are hoping Sweetland becomes the latest success story from the small town. After making stops with the Amherst (Junior A) Ramblers in Nova Scotia in 2006-07 and the University of Maine in 2007-08, Sweetland signed an entry-level contract with the Panthers in April. The trick now is to transfer that Bonavista magic to South Florida.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Sweetland of signing with the Panthers. “I know it’s a big jump, but when I sat down, weighed the pros and cons (of turning pro), Florida was my decision.”
Sweetland, who earned the Howard Neville Award as Maine’s rookie of the year last season with 17 points (eight goals) in 28 games, played junior A hockey between 2004-06 with the Couchiching Terriers before moving to Amherst in 2006-07 where he scored a team record 56 goals (61 assists) in 54 games. It’s no wonder he caught the attention of the Panthers scouting staff.
“He was one of the top players out there and one of our scouts (Paul Gallagher) had recommended him,” said Panther GM Jacques Martin. “He had accepted to go to Maine (last spring), but we invited him to our Development Camp (in Ontario).”
Martin liked what he saw.
“He was kind of a shy kid,” Martin said. “But he was a good skater, had a good work ethic. When you watched the kid, you felt like he had a pretty good upside. He’s dedicated and pretty mature, which is important.”
Still, once Sweetland signed on to attend Maine, “we just figured he be in college for four years,” Martin added.
Tim Whitehead, head coach of the Maine Black Bears, was hoping the same.
“I originally saw Andrew play in the Maritimes junior league where he broke all these scoring records and I was struck by his speed,” Whitehead said. “Good size, speed and hockey sense. He loves to train. I was also impressed with his attitude. He was named our rookie of the year and I think, if he stayed another season, he would have been elected captain next year.”
But Sweetland’s ability on the ice started bringing scouts to Maine. “I’d say his name started buzzing around the half point of the season,” Whitehead added. “He was garnering a lot of attention, but you can’t help but notice him. He oozes with high-end potential.”
Sweetland described Maine as a “great place,” and one he “couldn’t have asked any more from.” But NHL scouts, including those from San Jose, Calgary and Florida, were beating a path to Sweetland’s games.
“I was fairly late becoming aware of the interest,” Sweetland said. “But I had to listen to what everyone had to say. When it came time to make a decision, when I thought about everything, I decided to chose Florida.”
Sweetland admits the last few years have seemed like a “bit of a rollercoaster” at times with his 56 goals in Amherst – “A season when everything just went right with great linemates” – and his jump to Division I hockey, where everything was “bigger, stronger, faster,” he said.
And now turning pro? Sweetland was asked if the Panthers invitation to Development Camp last year had any influence in his decision to come to Florida rather than San Jose or Calgary?
“Definitely,” Sweetland said. “It was a great experience, coming out of junior A and showing what you need to get to the next level. I got to know the coaching staff and a lot of the players. It wasn’t the ultimate factor, but it helped my decision to come to Florida.”
Sweetland is currently preparing for his second Panther Development Camp in Ontario beginning May 26.
“I’m hoping to gain more confidence and continue learning,” he said. “My goal is to show up at the main training camp and, hopefully, crack the lineup.”