The Florida Panthers officially closed the book on their second-annual Summer Reading Tour this week.
In conjunction with the Broward County Library Division, the Panthers stopped by 10 different libraries throughout South Florida over the last two months, using the game of hockey to promote reading and inspire young children to not only think about picking up a stick, but also picking up far more books.
With the Panther Patrol in tow, the team brought games, prizes and even a special guest reader to each stop, with the reader, typically a player or broadcaster, also taking questions and signing autographs.
What were some of the highlights from this year's tour? Let's take a look back and see!
The Panthers kicked off their 2019 summer reading tour at Main Library in Fort Lauderdale back on June 13. Special guest Randy Moller, a former Panthers defenseman and the team's current television color analyst for FOX Sports Florida, stopped in to read "Z for Zamboni" and visited with the kids in the area.
"For the kids to be able to hear a wonderful voice like [Randy's] and see a player, it helps the them get interested in reading," said Broward County Main Library Youth Supervisor Autumn Dec.
The second stop on the tour took the Cats to the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale on June 18. Panthers Forward Jayce Hawryluk delighted kids as that afternoon's guest reader, while the always entertaining Stanley C. Panther kept the auditorium rocking until his arrival.
"It's awesome," said Hawryluk, who made his NHL debut with the Panthers last season. "Education is just as important as hockey, and it's important that kids realize that."
The following week, the summer reading tour made a stop at West Regional Library in Plantation. The Panther Patrol played games with the local kids and Stanley made another appearance, too! Moller once again won over the crowd as a guest reader, enchanting kids (and adults) with his legendary storytelling.
Then, on July 11, the summer reading tour welcomed guest reader and Panthers personality Bill Lindsay to Broward County's Sunrise Dan Pearl Library. Lindsay, a forward on Florida's inaugural 1993-94 team and the club's current radio color analyst, read a story about fierce hockey-playing dinosaurs before taking some time to snap pictures, sign autographs and hype up the crowd for the upcoming season.
With the summer in full swing, the Panthers Patrol then took the tour to its next stop at South Regional Library in Pembroke Pines on July 12. Panthers TV play-by-play professional Steve "Goldie" Goldstein read to gathered masses and answered questions about the team's offseason activities and what to look forward to this year. The Panther Patrol also brought inflatables, cornhole and plenty of other goodies.
Moving past the halfway point of the tour, the Panthers' sixth stop took them to the Southwest Regional Library on July 17. Panthers radio broadcaster Doug Plagens was the day's guest reader, telling the story of "Sam the Zamboni Man" to the kids and their families before taking questions from excited children.
Next, the summer reading tour then headed to Northwest Regional Library in Coral Springs on July 26. Panthers Senior Vice President Shawn Thornton, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, stepped up to read that day, leading kids in a raucous sing-along of Stompin' Tom Connors' legendary "The Hockey Song."
As the summer went on, the reading tour started to gain momentum. A highlight from the year was Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad going to Lauderdale Lakes Library on July 29 to read "Casey and Derek on the Ice." Having already come out to read a story during the inaugural tour last year, Ekblad said he firmly believes in the importance of the program and in reading throughout the entire summer.
"It's always nice to come out and do something like this," Ekblad said. "I remember as a kid being excited for things like this, no matter who it was that came out. Whether it was a hockey player or a doctor coming to read to you, it was always fun. It's always cool to learn, especially when you're a young kid."
Video: 2019 Florida Panthers Reading Tour: Aaron Ekblad
With the summer reading tour nearing its end, Panthers radio personality Doug Plagens came back for a second day out at North Regional/Broward College Library on Aug. 3. Plagens - always a hit among fans - read a delightful story about a Zamboni and his friends. He then fielded questions and comments from the kids, who were ready to talk hockey and Panthers strategy for the upcoming 2019-20 campaign.
Finally, the Panthers closed out the second summer reading tour on August 7 at Young At Art Library in Davie. Panthers alumnus Serge Payer was the guest reader and loved spending time in the community. He answered questions, posed for pictures and had plenty of fun with Stanley and the Panther Patrol!