Cliff Peeke, a Panther season ticket holder since DAY ONE, is back blogging on FloridaPanthers.com for a fifth season, giving the point of view on the Cats from a serious, die-hard fan’s perspective in his own blog titled Peeke’s Points.
A Michigan native who’s played hockey most his life (admittedly average at best), Cliff grew up watching the Red Wings games at the old Olympia Stadium. His allegiance changed to the Panthers the moment it was announced South Florida would have a team.
Cliff owns InXpress USA – South Florida (DHL international shipping and Freight). He has a wife and two sons (Trevor, 29, and Andrew, 13). Andrew has played on Tier 1 Jr. Panther teams since first eligible, and will be playing defence for the Bantam Minor, Tier 1, AAA, Florida Allliance in the ’11-’12 season..Peeke's Points Archive
Please note that the views expressed in this blog are views expressed by the blogger only and are not necessarily the views expressed by the Florida Panthers Hockey Club.
The long, grueling, brutal wait is over. We are in the Playoffs and are now the Southeast Division Champs.
I am still buzzing from the excitement of last night’s victory over Carolina. I’ll try to do my best to describe all this. I’m among a group of season ticket owners since day one. I think we all got a little spoiled by the early success of this franchise, going to the Stanley Cup Finals in only our third year. For a few years afterwards, the playoffs were expected and we did make it in. Then it all stopped and 11 years of multiple owners, GM’s, and player changes resulted in a franchise that had very little direction and no success. Year after year, I would hope for the best and be so terribly disappointed. My 14-year old son had not seen the Panthers in the playoffs, and I feared I would never enjoy one with him while he was still in his youth.
People outside of this market do not realize that the Panthers have a very loyal following. Outside of just a few NHL cities, how many markets could sustain the fan interest with such a long period of irrelevance. Chicago couldn’t…Pittsburgh almost left to KC…and it was easy to notice a lot of empty seats at Bruins home games not long ago. But here, there has been a very loyal base that stood by this team through one of the most trying periods of mediocrity in sports. And we were finally rewarded last night.
Looking back over the past ten games, where we went 2-3-5 for just 9 points, there was an obvious build up to the final regular season game Saturday night. We were sputtering, blew a perfect opportunity to clinch it all last Tuesday, had some goaltending difficulties, and just seemed to be in a funk at the wrong time. Clinching a playoff spot during a loss was only just a relief…very little satisfaction. This team still needed to prove itself, end the season on a high note, capture the Division crown and energize a fan base that absolutely needed some form of reward for years and years of loyalty and heartache. The stage was set for last night perfectly. Washington was defeating the Rangers and we had no choice but to earn a point to win the Division. But we needed two points…not just one…to create the mania that occurred as the clock was winding down.
I brushed off my 1993 Inaugural year Panther jersey, proudly wore it, and entered the arena with much anticipation. This would be our night. Thankfully, we built an early lead and thankfully Scott Clemmensen
played great. Thankfully there was enough of everything for this team to win. I was a twisted mess in my seat the whole game. No lead was safe. Until Mikael Samuelsson
’s empty net goal, I was experiencing blood pressure swings and rapid heart rate. I wanted so badly for my son to experience something special. I wanted the Division title and I wanted my fellow suffering fans to be rewarded. I found myself standing, arms raised, and yelling… “I’ve waited so long for this !!!”. Fans around me seemed to sense what all this meant to all of us. I looked over and there was my son, all smiles, fist clenched high in the air…a most memorable feeling.
I’m glad the game was not televised in South Florida. It made the arena experience that much more special. You had to be there. And the place was packed…with ALL Panther fans. Just like the days at the Miami Arena, the fans were all home-team fans. There was no putting up with visiting fans invading our arena. It was 19,000+ Panther fans all wanting and craving the same thing. When the final buzzer went off, rats rained down on the ice and the noise was deafening; the place was wild. Leaving, the concourses were manic; fans chanting, singing, high-fiving, hugging. The Panthers have never created this in all the years at this plush arena. They did last night.
Another reason I wanted the No. 3 seed, was that we would not be playing the Rangers. Certainly, we would lose home ice advantage, but more importantly, I could not stomach going to a home playoff game with so many Ranger fans in attendance. With so many transplanted New Yorkers in our area, you had to know they would have gobbled up way too many playoff tickets. The New Jersey Devils do not have a road following anywhere near the Rangers…so the first round will insure 99% Panther fans in attendance…and that is very, very important…and another reason I was flopping around like a fish in my seat.
Before the season, I entered my predictions on this blog site and was right-on predicting the Panthers would finish 6th in conference points (without recognition of division seeding). Take a look…
EASTERN CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS
- Washington Capitals…Tomas Vokoun’s salary is now back down to earth. The Capitals high-powered offense does not require him to “steal” games, something that rarely happened in Pantherland in the past. (I was off on this one as they finished 7th overall)
- Philadelphia Flyers…Aggressive off-season moves changes the team complexion but when you land Ilya Bryzgalov you become very good. He was the primary reason the low-payroll Coyotes competed. This team, along with the Panthers, will prove that change is good. (they finished 3rd overall…I was close)
- Buffalo Sabres…A fast, scrappy team that’s had front office consistency and strong goaltending. Ryan Miller makes them good and adding defenseman Robyn Regehr makes them better. (Way off on this…they never did get great returns on added free agents as they finished 9th)
- Pittsburgh Penguins…Somehow they assembled a strong defense along the way…puck-movers Kris Letang and Paul Martin combine with Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek. Mix in their attacking offense and Marc-Andre Fleury in net…this is a playoff team for sure. (Just 1 point from #1…dangerous team heading into playoffs)
- Boston Bruins…And to think we had Dennis Seidenberg. Anyway, everything clicked for this team last year but no doubt it was Tim Thomas’ goaltending that led the way. Repeating will be tough. (finished 4th overall…so I was close on this one)
- FLORIDA PANTHERS…If team is 6-4 after ten games, they will have enough confidence and talent to surprise critics and fill the arena with fans starving for something of relevance down here. The goaltending tandem of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen will be the deciding factor. (guess what…they finished 6th overall, proving that I can predict much better than the so-called hockey experts that had them finishing last)
- Tampa Bay Lightning…There are some holes on this team but their power play and top-end talent players make them an automatic for a playoff spot. I can’t put them ahead of the Panthers though. (finished 10th and proves the importance of good goaltending)
- Montreal Canadiens…This is one of those teams where every player is at least “good”. Then you have Carey Price in net and how do you not make the playoffs even if it may be close. (way off on this team…they never got it together and finished last)
- New Jersey Devils…Peter DeBoer makes do with the defense-first mentality but finds out he’s a few years too late with this team as goaltender Brodeur is nearing the end, and he always made the difference. (finished 5th and finished strong…our first round opponent)
- New York Rangers…Henrik Lundqvist will keep them in the hunt all season. The lack of firepower up front and an average defense makes it tough to enjoy a playoff slot. (blew it on this pick…they had a great regular season…good for them)
- Toronto Maple Leafs…The Leafs are improved and could be one of the conference’s surprise teams. Goaltending and depth may be their problem areas. Still, if things click they could sneak in. (for a brief period they made a surge but slipped and finished 13th)
- Carolina Hurricanes….This team is actually well-balanced, and could contend. There are just better teams ahead of them and losing Erik Cole really hurts. (guess what…they finished 12th)
- New York Islanders…If they didn’t scoop up Michael Grabner from us and me having to stomach his awesome season, I would have to be excited by the youthful talent this team has. They make the playoffs next year…not this year. (finished 14th…close again)
- Winnipeg Jets…Hockey-starved community can only bring on so many wins. They are nowhere near enough for this team to make the playoffs. (future looks bright for this team…finished 11th)
- Ottawa Senators…GM Bryan Murray has compiled some talented, hard working youth. The future is bright…just a few years away. (wow…way off…they made it in much sooner and finished 8th)
So, I thought Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and Montreal would make it in to the top eight, but instead it was New York, New Jersey, and Ottawa. At least I got the Panthers right, and were close on many others.
Check this out…from last year’s regular season point total to this year…some interesting “swings”. The Panthers were the most dramatic in the East with a +22 point differential. On the flip side, the Tampa Bay Lighting experienced a -19 drop-off…and yet they have the leading scorer superstar in Steven Stamkos…weird.
NY Rangers +16
New Jersey +9
NY Islanders +6
Tampa Bay -19
Clearly, the positive surprises were the Panthers and Ottawa. And the major disappointments had to be Buffalo and Tampa Bay.
Well, that’s it for now. What a feeling though. I want to thank Dale Tallon and Mike Santos for finally putting together a “blueprint” that is working. Of course, Cliff Viner (owner) for making the move to solidify the most important position in hockey; GM. And how about the players. I recall following the first day of free agency and thinking afterwards that we have just assembled a pretty good team. I remember when these new players were introduced together. I really felt that this could be the group that would help us get to the Playoffs.
Thanks to Brian Campbell
for waiving your no-trade clause and allowing us to absolutely “win” that trade with Chicago. Thanks to Stephen Weiss
for being a loyal soldier. I remember taking my son, who was three at the time, to that draft that was held here. It’s refreshing when a player like you possesses the desire to be part of the solution…and you have exhibited some awesome qualities that should be looked up to by many youths…commitment, loyalty, and hard work. Thanks. You deserved to be the #1 star in the most important Panther game in at least the last 13 or so years…congratulations.
I am so pumped up for the Playoffs. Go Panthers !!!!!
I enjoy reading the comments (some from around the world) after one of these…so please share your thoughts…my email is firstname.lastname@example.org