FORT LAUDERDALE - The Florida Panthers aim to not only excite, but also inspire.
As part of Black History Month, the Panthers held a special screening of the movie Soul on Ice: Past, Present and Future at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 20, inviting youths from numerous outreach programs to attend the event.
Filling the auditorium were members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County, the Urban League of Broward County, Broward County Parks & Recreation and YMCA of South Florida.
Kim Davis, who was named the NHL's Executive Vice President for Social Impact, Growth Initiatives & Legislative Affairs in 2017, was also a special guest of the Panthers at the event.
"The opportunity to speak to kids who really are our future fans about the inclusivity in our sport and the history in our sport really speaks to how we want to educate, provide information and ultimately inspire new generations of fans that will consume our sport in the future," Davis said. "We have a rich history in our sport. In many ways, these stories haven't been told. Much of what we're doing now in terms of storytelling aren't new stories, they're just exposing not only new fans but to our existing avid fans the history of our sport for many diverse audiences."
Soul on Ice, which was released in 2015, explores the immense contributions of black athletes in ice hockey. At the heart of the film is Jaden Lindo, a Brampton, Ontario native who shares his journey from an aspiring black hockey player to eventual draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Throughout the movie, Lindo's ups and downs are mirrored by the incredible stories of many other black hockey players, coaches and their families that paved the way for him, dating all the way back to the creation of the colored hockey league in Nova Scotia during the late 1800s.
A radio announcer in Edmonton for more than a decade, Kwame Mason said he was inspired to make Soul on Ice -- despite having no prior film credits -- after befriending local hockey players like Georges Laraque, who was one of the NHL's few black players during his 12-year career.
Mason, who grew up in Toronto, began working on the film in 2012.
"In the back of my head I was just like, 'I wish I could see more black athletes playing the game of hockey,'" Mason said. "Growing up in Canada, we know and love the game and we still had that history of not seeing a lot of black athletes playing… I just used my resources, and I used my creativity and my love for the game of hockey to put this documentary together."
Mason said he hopes that his film, which also highlights current black NHL players such as Trevor Daley, Malcolm Subban and Wayne Simmonds, will especially resonate with children.
"Being in South Florida, I know that hockey is not the first thing African-American children would think about," Mason said. "But what I would like for them to do is just to say to themselves, 'Hey there's something else that we're a part of.' Just like the saying goes, 'hockey is for everyone.' It's very important to be able to show these kinds of films to young kids of different colors."
Prior to the screening, Panthers forward Colton Sceviour, who is serving as the team's Hockey is For Everyone ambassador this season, took the stage and spoke to the wide-eyed audience.
"You're introducing them hockey straight up," Sceviour said. "It's a different way of viewing it, but it's always exciting to try and build a connection with the community in any way you can… It's cool to show them what we're made of and what we are. If you can get a couple people to start getting interested in your game and want to play in any way, shape or form, it's a success."
Sceviour's advice to aspiring hockey players in South Florida? Start with roller hockey.
"You get to start outside, you get to play in the sun," Sceviour said. "It's a little more of a casual set up. I think it was big in California, kids started playing roller hockey and then transitioned to ice hockey. The weather's so nice here, you might as well take advantage of that."
Mason said having players like Sceviour speak to children will only inspire them even further.
"That's huge," he said. "When you can relate and talk to and touch the subject that you're seeing on camera or you're seeing on the TV, it makes it more special for them. It makes it not feel like a check in the box. These guys are actually showing that they care."
After the screening had wrapped, Mason, Davis and former New Jersey defenseman Bryce Salvador, who became just the third black captain in NHL history when he donned the "C" for the Devils in 2013, took questions on everything from hockey to life from those in attendance.
"We're not saying that you have to be a hockey player," Mason said. "We're not saying that you have to be in the National Hockey League. But you can be a fan. In being a fan, these kids will grow up to have children and, maybe, if they become fans of the game they might want to put their children in the game of hockey."
If you're interested in watching Soul on Ice, the movie's official website can be found HERE.