When the Florida Panthers opened their season against the Atlanta Thrashers on October 5, just a tiny fraction of seats in the big, fat BankAtlantic Center (1 Panther Pkwy., Sunrise) were empty. It's nice to know that after a yearlong strike, hockey again has a pulse and the Cats still have a fan base. The team finished the preseason with a 3-2-1 record -- only the second time in franchise history that it enters the regular season with a better-than-.500 average.
Keep your eyes on Roberto Luongo -- the guy whom Mario Lemieux has compared to Patrick Roy. When he was signed in 1997 by the New York Islanders, Luongo was the highest-drafted goaltender ever. Now, many people consider him the best one in the league, period. In 2003-04, he set NHL records for saves (2,303) and shots against (2,475). This will be his fifth season with the Panthers, and with them, Luongo meets his old foes from the Boston Bruins on the ice Thursday night. No worries; Boston is the team against which Luongo played his first NHL game -- and won -- in 1999. Later that year, he racked up his first NHL shutout against them. On Saturday, the Cats go back to work when they play the Buffalo Sabres. It's just the beginning of a grueling season that lasts through April. For tickets, call 954-835-PUCK, or visit www.ticketmaster.com. -- Deirdra Funcheon
The C Word
Is the word on the street
There's something about that nasty little word -- cancer. With it affecting millions of people every year and no cure yet, it's frustrating enough to make you want to get on a bike and win the Tour de France seven times... or at least lace up your shoes and walk. Since 1972, the American Cancer Society has spent $246 million battling the disease. Get fired up about the c word and join the organization's pink forces in Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, a noncompetitive 5K walk along Fort Lauderdale's Riverwalk (32 E. Las Olas Blvd.). It starts at 7:30 a.m. And if you're really pissed, join some of the four other Making Strides walks that will happen in South Florida on October 22 and 29. Call 954-564-0880, or visit www.cancer.org/stridesonline. -- Deirdra Funcheon