A year ago this past week, our collective lives changed, possibly forever.
An unknown virus emerged, suddenly altering our daily lives, affecting families, livelihoods, interests, hobbies, and in the Panthers family with their fanatical fan base, a sport taken away. All remained vigilant, responsible, hopeful, supportive, and above all, determined.
Surreal as it seems now, standing in the Panthers team hotel in Dallas that March day, informed that the game versus the Stars that evening would be cancelled, quickly gathering and packing our travel bags, boarding a flight back to South Florida to an unknown abyss, together now we view a positive future.
Fast forward: With the vaccination process in full swing, safe and secure (limited) fans enjoying BB&T Center home games, and the most exciting Panthers team since the "Pavel Bure era", the future looks cautiously bright for this franchise.
Without our brave first responders, medical and science professionals, and South Florida community coming together when needed, it's hard to imagine what the landscape would look like. Benefits of the months long "pause" gave the Florida Panthers organization an opportunity to self-evaluate, both on and off the ice.
Following the footsteps of the Panthers blueprint commitment in and to the community, focus quickly turned to all touch points of fan engagement, and the on-ice product. Re-investment in every "fan experience" aspect has resulted in the convenience, safety, and enjoyment for all. Award-winning cleanliness, touch free food/beverage and parking/merchandise options now greet every person entering BB&T Center.
Just as important, the hiring of GM Bill Zito and revamped hockey operations, quickly brought a fresh new positive atmosphere to the locker room. Over an abbreviated "off-season" Zito and staff set out to change the team's environment, with over half of the team's roster turned over.
Promising a hardworking, fast paced, team-first commitment, head coach Joel Quenneville now steers an exciting squad using upgraded organizational depth, internal competition, added youth and experienced veterans. All accomplished without jeopardizing the long-term plans of acute drafting and developing future prospects.
As we approach the midway point of this unprecedented season, I can only imagine what the final 28 games, and beyond, will offer. Personally, the joy of being involved in broadcasting this current Panthers team has been nothing short of nirvana. Although us broadcasters cannot travel with the team, it is a small sacrifice to the alternative.
Could this be the year of the Panther? So far, this Panthers organization has taken the current situation and, through clear and relentless determination, turned adversity into an opportunity.
Enjoy the ride and see you at the rink,
"Red Deer" Randy Moller