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Good afternoon from Tampa. I’m here in “Hockey Bay” as they call it, getting ready for tonight’s Panthers-Lightning rivalry game at the St. Pete Times Forum, and I thought now would be a good time to thank every single one of the 18,802 fans that “Rocked The Rink” on Opening Night on Saturday.
Quite frankly, the atmosphere at the BankAtlantic Center for the Cats-Devils game was one of the most exciting and passionate I’ve seen in my tenure. Kicked off by an incredible new opening video and with 15,000 Growl Towels waving at every key moment, the new Bova Panthers Ice Dancers squad inciting the crowd at every opportunity, and a down-to-the-wire one-goal game to boot, there’s no doubt the rink was rocking on Saturday.
But for all the extra-curricular activities we do as an organization to make the BankAtlantic Center a fun, friendly and exciting place to watch a hockey game, without the loyalty and dedication of our fans, those things would just be window dressing. Walking the concourse at the ‘Center of it All’ on Saturday night, I saw painted faces, thousands of Panthers jerseys, homemade signs and more. I saw people in suits and ties embracing fans in t-shirts and jeans after the Panthers first goal. I saw moms and dads with kids, guys with girlfriends, boys nights out, girls nights out and every other kind of fan imaginable. It was truly a party atmosphere at the BankAtlantic Center and, despite the 3-2 loss to New Jersey, I’m hoping it continues all season long.
Tonight is our next chance to really steal back some of the momentum we had on Opening Night in a key divisional game against Tampa Bay. It’s a bit ironic to be talking about “key” games so early in the season, but we all know how important it is for this team to get off to a fast start, and there’s no question, we haven’t done that through four games.
That said, our team has dealt with a lot of adversity over the last four months, and I’m confident that under the leadership of coach Pete DeBoer and captain Bryan McCabe, we will be able to rebound quickly and start putting some more points on the board. Hopefully it starts tonight against the Lightning, and continues on Friday night against a very good Philadelphia Flyers team at the BankAtlantic Center.
I look forward to seeing many of the same passionate faces, and plenty of new ones, as we continue to “Rock The Rink” for our Cats. Thank you once again to all of our fans for continuing to support this franchise and go Panthers.