For most of the players in attendance, the trip to Florida Panthers Development Camp involves some hefty travel. That is not the case for South Florida natives Colin Suellentrop and Cody Payne. While players like Aleksander Barkov
and Juho Lammikko made the 5,000 mile flight from Finland, for Suellentrop and Payne, the Florida Panthers IceDen is practically in their backyard.
Colin Suellentrop is a 6’1” defenseman from Plantation, FL, and Cody Payne is a 6’2” forward from Weston, FL. Both grew up in South Florida loving the sport of hockey and now the two players have the opportunity to show their talents on their home ice wearing the jersey of their hometown Florida Panthers.
Former Panthers defenseman and current Manager of Player Development, Bryan McCabe, feels that given the rapid growth of hockey in South Florida, it is only a matter of time before local players start making the jump to the NHL.
“Hockey is growing in Florida, period,” McCabe said. “Kids are getting better and better and now you are starting to see kids actually make it to the National Hockey League.”
“We are very fortunate to have [two] local kids here who certainly do not look out of place at this camp.”
Their time together in camp this week will not be the first time that Suellentrop and Payne have shared a rink. The duo grew up playing roller hockey together in Florida and played and roomed together with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals for parts of two seasons from 2010-2011.
For most players at Florida’s Development Camp the spectators consist of fans, media and team front office members. While Suellentrop and Payne were closely watched by those factions, they also had some more familiar fans in attendance on Monday, their friends and family.
“I had some family here, I saw a lot of friends out there,” Payne said. “I didn’t invite them, I guess they just came on their own.”
It is no surprise that the two Florida natives have their own cheering sections as the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs is about 15 miles from both Plantation and Weston. For any kid growing up playing hockey in Florida, the IceDen is almost like a second home.
“A lot of us have grown up at this rink all our lives,” Payne recalls.
Seeing a lot more of the Panthers’ practice facility would be more than okay for both Suellentrop and Payne as the two players are hoping to parlay their development camp invites into a chance to latch on with an NHL organization, especially one so close to home.
The 6’1” Suellentrop was drafted in the fourth round (116th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. After going unsigned by Philadelphia, the defenseman is free to sign with other NHL teams. During the 2013-14 season, his fifth with Oshawa, Suellentrop recorded 23 points (3-20-23) and 98 PIM in 67 regular season games.
Payne is also looking to stick with an NHL team. Drafted by the Boston Bruins in the fifth round (145th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the forward, who tallied 26 goals last season for Saginaw, has already been on three OHL teams, had his NHL rights traded, and is on his third NHL camp. Despite the nomadic early career, Payne is just grateful to still be playing the game that he loves.
“I’ve definitely grown accustomed to it, I expect anything at any moment at this point,” Payne said. “Its part of the business and I’m happy to be in the business. “
The two Florida locals recognize that attending a camp with their hometown team is a special opportunity.
“I played here for the JR Panthers for like six or seven years,” Suellentrop said. “Its awesome to get to be on this side of the rink here. It’s a great opportunity and I’m going to try to make the best of it.”