|The Panthers "Belt" given following victories to one player who "steps up" in helping the team earn two points.
As the Panthers ride a hot streak and lead their division at the latest point of any season in franchise history, it may be a piece of plastic that helps Florida make a long-awaited appearance in the postseason.
It’s known simply as “The Belt.”
It’s made of lightweight plastic and is striking gold in color, outlined in Panthers red. Its centered medallion includes the Panthers logo and is worthy of any heavyweight title.
Awarded after a victory, it is given to a player who “steps up” and helps the Panthers earn a win.
And while it’s no surprise that goaltender Jose Theodore
, with his stellar play and clutch saves, has taken home the honors the most times this season, it is more telling to note the last two Panthers who have been presented with The Belt: Krys Barch and John Madden
To showcase what separates The Belt recipient from say, the No. 1 Star of the Game, look no further than Brian Campbell
. The Panthers alternate captain could arguably be the team’s MVP this season, and yet, according to him, he’s never been awarded the trophy.
While Campbell seems completely comfortable admitting he’s never had The Belt bestowed on him, it’s a fairly surprising fact – one that illustrates the purpose of the honor.
The Belt is not typically reserved for the best player of a game; rather, it’s presented to an unsung hero, a guy who makes one big play that helps lead the Cats to victory.
On Tuesday, it was Barch, who bloodied Toronto’s Jay Rosehill in a heavyweight fight, after Rosehill toppled John Madden
with a hit.
On Thursday, it was Madden himself, after forcing a turnover and driving to a net for his first goal and point with the Panthers.
|The Belt sitting in Krys Barch's locker. Barch earned the award following the Maple Leafs game. |
“Sometimes it doesn’t always go to the guy who gets the most points, but maybe does a little gutter work, a little iron work – some things that go unnoticed some nights,” said Barch. “I think maybe I did something that night that not everyone would notice, but maybe helped with getting two points.”
And really, that’s what The Belt is all about: winning.
The idea to award a player with an honored keepsake after a victory is nothing new in hockey.
For years, numerous teams have used hard hats and other props to congratulate a player for success in a game. Recently, the gifts have branched out into more unique ideas, including the New York Rangers’ fedora “Broadway” hat and the St. Louis Blues’ hat of a giant hot dog to honor their “Weenie of the Game.”
The decision to use a plastic toy as the memento of importance this season came after the Panthers leadership had famed boxer “Irish” Micky Ward come and speak with the team before the start of the season.
The Panthers’ training camp was themed with boxing in mind, and the team’s pump-up video was based on the movie about Ward’s life and career, “The Fighter.”
Certainly, a toy Championship Belt would be the perfect keepsake for the upcoming season.
While Head Coach Kevin Dineen’s choice of motivational speaker may have ultimately influenced this season’s game “award,” he lets The Belt presentation be something for the players themselves.
“I never stick around to see who has it or who doesn’t,” said Dineen. “Usually, I’ll say a little quick something to the room and I might catch it the odd time, but really, for the most part, I’ve kind of kept that the players’ spot.”
It’s easy to see that the players deeply respect The Belt and its presentation, where the player who most recently was honored with the trophy awards it to the teammate he thinks most deserves it.
“I think for everybody who gets it, it’s a big deal,” said Madden. “It’s appreciation of your teammates for what you contribute to the team.
“On many nights, it’s a tough decision when you win a game because it’s not just one guy doing it out there, it’s everybody…There’s many nights where you could choose three, four, five guys and that’s what it takes to win.”
After The Belt is awarded to a player, it often finds its way onto a shelf of his locker room stall, sitting as a proud reminder of his contribution to the team’s success. The members of the team’s equipment staff are sure to pack it like any other item of gear when Florida travels to a road game.
While the trophy may be awarded after a win, the prop itself has contributed to the Panthers’ success this season by being an instrument of team bonding for a group of teammates that are noticeably close.
“It’s good to kind of keep everybody together in the locker room,” said Campbell. “For me, it can go to any different number of people on a given night, so I think that’s just the camaraderie of it all that works well with us.”
And, as Coach Dineen remarked about The Belt “Of course, the gaudy factor is fairly high, which probably makes it all the more fun.”
Players do enjoy razzing each other about the award and especially relish the chance to present it to a teammate.
|The Belt sits in John Madden's locker following his first goal of the season against the Bruins. |
“It was funny because there were about 30 seconds left on the clock [Thursday] and we were sitting on the bench and Barchy goes, ‘Hey, who should I give The Belt to?’” Madden recalled. “So, I gave him a couple of suggestions and when we came in, he started laughing and handed me The Belt.”
“I kind of had an idea [that I’d give it to him]; I just wanted to be sure he didn’t say himself,” quipped Barch, with a grin. “I was testing him out before I gave it to him.
“There’s a lot of stressful situations throughout the year, and if you can kind of get a laugh here and there and kind of pick somebody up with confidence through a belt or hard hat, it’s always nice to do.”
As important as The Belt has become to the Panthers this season, they know they can only enjoy it with a victory.
As Madden pointed out, it’s ultimately not about earning The Belt yourself, but instead ensuring the Panthers will be able to celebrate it again after the next game.
“I’m excited for us to win [Saturday] and see who I can give it to.”