Today’s Florida Panthers Street Cats hockey clinic at BB&T Center had a special guest who is quite familiar with the team and the arena.
Lake Worth native Brittany Bugalski joined in on the opportunity to teach local youngsters about hockey and share her experiences as a goaltender growing up in South Florida.
Bugalski, 18, recently won a Gold Medal with Team USA at the U-18 Women’s World Championship and earned a shutout over Team Czech Republic in her first game of the tournament.
“It was unbelievable,” Bugalski said about winning Gold with Team USA. “It’s everything you grow up as a kid dreaming of and to seeing it come to life, winning a goal medal…it was an overtime game, 20 seconds [into overtime] our captain scores from the blue line, it was just unbelievable. We had a great bond, the kids on the team and the coaches, it just made it that much better.”
The young netminder began her hockey journey at eight years old, filling a vacant goaltending spot for her brother’s recreational hockey team.
“My brother played rec hockey at Palm Beach Skate Zone and his team needed a goalie. My dad was coaching at the time. I was around eight years old, my mom didn’t want me to play, she said it was a ‘boys sport’, but my Dad convinced her to let me play, so I strapped on the pads. My mom kept saying ‘one more season, one more season’ and now I’m here.”
Developing her game in Florida, Bugalski played for the Florida Jr. Panthers (97) and Palm Beach Predators (97). During her time with the Jr. Panthers, Bugalski served as the team’s Captain. Seeing first hand and being a part of the growth of hockey in South Florida, Bugalski is just one of the players who are making waves for Florida hockey.
“Competition [in Florida] is getting better and better and the players are getting better and better. I know we’ve had a few kids come out of this area, Jakob Chychrun is expected to go top-ten in the Draft next year, Mason Kohn plays in the OHL, Conor O’Brien is in the Draft this year. There are a lot of kids I grew up playing with that are big successes. It’s awesome to see that.”
Her ties to her South Florida roots are what brought her to BB&T Center today.
“I was pumped when they asked me about [Street Cats], it’s always great to have the opportunity to give back. I’m running a pro ambitions camp later this month in Lake Worth, so any opportunity I have to give back I’ll definitely take advantage of it.”
After graduating from Loomis Chaffee Academy in Windsor, Connecticut this past May, Bugalski is committed to Northeastern University where she will play for the Huskies. The transition into playing Division-1 hockey is a challenge that Bugalski welcomes with open arms and is prepared for the life of a student athlete.
“I went to a boarding school, so I’m kind of familiar with the student-athlete process. Definitely going to college will be a big step, but I think I’m prepared, [boarding school] teaches you how to manage your time and I think I’m ready for that after the boarding school experience, I’m excited for a new chapter.”
“It’s a bigger step than prep school hockey, I’m excited to get to play against those players and hopefully prepare me for hopefully anything in my future potentially with USA Hockey.”
Bugalski enters college at an interesting time for women’s hockey. The National Women’s Hockey League is set to play their first season this year and will hold their inaugural draft on June 20, with many of the potential prospects being college players.
“When I was younger, I never thought there could be a potential to be drafted. I watch the [NHL] Draft every year, we’ll be at the Draft this year because it’s in Sunrise and it’s just awesome to know that it’s in my future and the future for women’s hockey. I think it’s just going to get bigger and bigger and it’s going to be a great thing for girls hockey.”
The young netminder is a strong role model for girls, especially those in South Florida that dream of one day lacing up their skates and playing hockey. “[Girls] can keep up at any level. The sport is growing in Florida for all ages, but even more so for girls hockey. It’s more prevalent everywhere I go. Girls can keep up.”