On March 16, Florida Panthers Goaltending Coach Robb Tallas stood in front of the media with the results of the Goal of a Lifetime competition. After two 90-minute sessions on the ice with over 50 competing goaltenders, the results were in.
Bill Ruggiero of Daytona Beach, FL and Dustin Smith of Nashville, TN emerged as finalists and were selected to compete in a shootout showdown with Panthers’ alumni Radek Dvorak and Marco Sturm. The two goaltenders’ match-up was set to play out during the first intermission of the Panthers’ contest with the Montreal Canadiens on March 17.
Ruggiero and Smith each allowed one goal and stopped the rest of the shots faced to end the competition in a tie. With a tie to finish the Goal of a Lifetime shootout, the Panthers announced that both Ruggiero and Smith would win the competition and earn the chance to practice with the Panthers on March 18.
As the two netminders stepped onto the bench and watched the Panthers practice, they were given the green light to hit the ice and step between the pipes. A formation of Panthers players surrounded the net as they waited to shoot on the two winners.
“There were moments I had to pinch myself to remember I was actually here,” said Ruggiero of his experience on the ice. “It was just memorable and fun. The guys were great, the team was great. [It was] A great memory, [I made] new friends and the city just [felt] very welcoming coming here.”
“I learned a lot, going through the drills and the shootout,” said Smith. “Overall [it was] unreal. Walking out on the ice with those guys…I never thought I’d walk out on the ice with the Florida Panthers like that."
Met on the ice by Roberto Luongo, the two goaltenders got to speak to the All-Star netminder as he picked their brain about their journey to South Florida.
“We talked about the experience for them,” said Luongo. “I just wanted to be a part of that a little bit and see how they did. For them, obviously it’s an exciting time and it was nice to see a bunch of the guys stay on and try to get a couple goals on them.”