SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers’ newest additions and recent re-signees were greeted with a wave of deafening cheers upon being introduced to a passionate group of season ticket holders for the first time during a special meet-and-greet at the BB&T Center on Thursday.
In addition to forwards Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith, who both signed contract extensions this summer, the rowdy fans in attendance also succeeded in providing a warm welcome for several of the team’s newest players, including defensemen Jason Demers, Keith Yandle and Mark Pysyk, as well as forwards Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault.
“It tells you how far we’ve come as a franchise,” Panthers Executive Chairman Peter Luukko said of the event. “We’re talking hockey in South Florida in July and having hundreds of people show up. It’s really special.”
Luukko, who oversaw the Philadelphia Flyers for more than 25 years as president and CEO of Comcast-Spectacor before joining the Panthers in 2015, is well aware of the role that a strong fan base plays in the long-term success of any franchise, noting that the less divide there is between players and fans, the better.
“I think it’s really important,” Luukko said. “One of the biggest assets we have in our sport is that the players are great guys and just like the regular guy next door. To have that direct fan interaction is not only really good for the fans, but also for the growth of our sport.”
Throughout the event, the lines that stretched throughout the arena’s concourse were long, but moving at a steady pace as fans, many draped from head to toe in team apparel, waited patiently for the chance to snap a photo or grab an autograph from one or more of the seven players in attendance.
“We really welcome this event,” said Panthers fan Chuck Norris of Coconut Creek, a part-time season ticket holder for the past 15 seasons. “It’s really good to see the new guys come in and spare some of their own time. I think that’s pretty generous of them and not a lot of sports do that.”
For fans like Mr. Norris, Thursday’s event not only provided fans with the unique opportunity to get up close and personal with the some of the franchise’s biggest stars, but also served as a way to clear up a few very important details.
“I was just talking to Mr. Pysyk over here,” said Norris, pointing to Panthers defenseman Mark Pysyk, who was acquired in a trade with Buffalo earlier this summer. “I asked him if it was pronounced ‘Pie-sick’ or ‘Piss-ick.’ He smiled and said that it was pronounced ‘Peh-syk.’ He had a big smile the whole time and looked really happy to be here. He looked like he was really excited and enthusiastic about the year to come.”
As the Panthers prepare to defend their Atlantic Division title, the buzz surrounding the team is expected to continue growing over the coming months as the anticipation builds for the team’s regular-season opener against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 13.
If Thursday’s event is any indication of what’s to come, however, both Panthers players and fans can expect the arena to be crowded and rocking all season long.
“I’m very excited to be here,” said defenseman Jason Demers, who signed a five-year deal with the Panthers on July 2. “This team was definitely at the top of my list when I was deciding where to sign and when I was getting close to free agency. You can feel the momentum here building the last few years. I think it’s really an exciting time to be in Florida. I can’t wait to get the season started.”