If you happened to watch any of the 2007 NHL Playoffs, you might have seen exactly where former Panthers goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck is right now. The “Beezer”, as everyone in South Florida knows him, is staying close to hockey by broadcasting games on television for VERSUS and HDNet as well as some games on NHL Radio.
At the beginning of the 1995-96 season, the Beezer was the only well-known name on the Panthers. Maybe the most beloved Panther ever, Vanbiesbrouck remembers as that year went on and the 1996 Cats made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, how the popularity of the team quickly began to outweigh the popularity of one player.
“I think that we bonded as a group and became more known as a team rather than individuals,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “That is probably the best credit you could give to everybody who participated on that team.”
On July 28, the Beezer will once again take the net for the Panthers as the 1996 Panthers reunite for a game at the BankAtlantic Center. Until then, Vanbiesbrouck is busy back at home, just 40 miles outside of Detroit. He is running a local hockey school for Hockey Ministries International. The camp is over the summer and can be either a sleep-a-way camp for kids or just a daytime camp.
Besides the camp, Vanbiesbrouck’s four sons are also athletes. His oldest son Ian plays for NCAA Division-III Bethel University. His second son Ben is an avid golfer playing in tournaments and for his high school team. His 15-year old, Nick, is an up and coming hockey player for some local teams in Michigan. Finally, as Vanbiesbrouck said, his youngest son, six years old, “is just loving life right now”. The Beezer loves his family life at home.
“My family and I do a bit of camping, we spend a lot of time playing golf,” Vanbiesbrouck said. We also do some fishing over the summer. It’s just about having some family fun.”
As the 1996 Panthers reunion approaches, Vanbiesbrouck is digging up those old memories and thinking back to his days in Florida.
“I don’t think we really did realize what was in the making because you never know that you succeed until you do, and I think the success was genuine,” Vanbiesbrouck said. We were breaking down new barriers in South Florida and we had no idea how far we were going to go.”
The Beezer still holds the Panthers record for games played by a goaltender with 268. He is second on the team’s list with 106 wins as a Cat and he still holds the Panthers record for lowest goals-against-average at 2.58.
“I went on to play for another couple teams, but I probably would have liked to finish off my career as a Florida Panther.”