Welcome to your safe place, bandwagon Florida Panthers fans — we've been expecting you. Imagine this as an anonymous after-hours meeting in a poorly lit room with a group of steel chairs perfectly placed in a circle; this is your judge-free zone. There is no such thing as a "bandwagon Florida Panthers fan" in this room, only "new Panthers friends."
By showing up to this meeting, you have taken the first step. Now we need to fill your Panthers-fan passion bucket so full of Panthers knowledge that Pavel Bure bobblehead dolls will start spilling out of it by the time we are done. What? Oh, sorry — Pavel Bure is an ex-Panthers player. Wow, we have some work to do.
Here, my new Florida Panthers buddies, is your hand-dandy guide to blending in as a longtime Florida Panthers fan.
I really don't want to be labeled a bandwagon Florida Panthers fan. Can you help me?
Yes. You know the parts in The Walking Dead when the characters slime themselves with zombie guts so the other zombies won't smell them, then kill them? This blog is like that zombie-slime, only slightly less disturbing.
Ummmmmm, all right? So how long have I been a Florida Panthers fan?
Technically you've been a fan since 1992. That's the year the Panthers became a thing in the NHL thing you've always been a fan of. You can't just say a year, though — nah, they'll sniff you out. You've been going to Panthers games since they were played at "The Big Pink Elephant." If you're a Miami Heat fan, you know that's the Miami Arena. Yes, the Panthers used to play there too. Those were weird times.
If someone asks me who my favorite Panther is, what do I say?
Two-part answer. John Vanbiesbrouck or Ed Jovanovski are the two best answers when it comes to past players. Hit ’em with a Jovo-Cop reference and watch as the Florida Panthers secret party door opens and welcomes you in. If you want to throw in a current name, Aaron Ekblad or Jaromir Jagr are both perfectly fine choices.
Jovo Cop? Seriously? Whatever. So what the heck is this rat thing all about?
Get out your highlighter — this one is important. Before the 1995–96 season opener, Panthers wingman Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the locker room, then went out and scored two goals with the same stick. John Vanbiesbrouck ("The Beezer") coined the term "rat trick" after the game. Fans normally throw hats on the rink after a hat trick, so Panthers fans started buying plastic rats and throwing them on the ice after goals. The team went to the Stanley Cup that season.
That oddly makes a lot of sense. All right, so say I want to start a conversation with a hottie at Starbucks in a Panthers shirt — what's the move?
The Panthers have won ten games in a row and are first in their division, so that's a nice and safe place to start. You can also say to them you love Starbucks cookies but they have too much icing. That's a hockey joke. They will get it, trust me. OK, probably don't say that, but it would have worked on me.
Did you just give me an obscure Starbucks hockey pickup line that would work only on my Dad? Gross. Who is the GM and coach?
Hey, judge-free zone, remember?! Dale Tallon is the GM, and Gerard Gallant is the coach. They both look exactly like you'd imagine, very red-faced and surly.
Literally reel off the names of a few lesser-known players so I can write them down and try to memorize them.
Huberdeau, Bjustad, Barkov, Bukvic, Gudbranson, Kulikov, Petrovic, and Bajraktaraj.
I'm sorry, a couple of those names aren't actual Panthers players; they are the names of bad guys in the first Taken movie.
That's not helping.
Couldn't resist. OK, so you should know that Broward County recently awarded the Panthers an $86 million grant that will keep the team in Sunrise for awhile.
OK, so they will keep playing at that place by Sawgrass Mills across from the IKEA?
At the BB&T Center, yes. You should know the name of the arena. Imagine if you said to a Heat fan, "Wow, I was at that place across the street from Bayside for the game, and it was LIT."
I would never say "lit."
That's why I said imagine.
Wait, I just Googled the team's roster, and it says the goalie is Luongo; Is that the same...
Yup. In 2014, they brought Luongo back in a trade with Vancouver, the team he had been with for the past eight seasons. It's worked out well. Also, don't be afraid to call him the Panthers "net-minder" — it's a nice touch.
That's a good tip. So what's up with Jagr? Isn't he like 50 by now?
He's 43, and by the end of this season, he will be third all-time in NHL goals and points. He's been so good the fans voted him as one of the four captains of the NHL All-Star game, even after he begged them not to vote for him because he has no desire to play 3-on-3 hockey, and he might die.
Nice. So it sounds like the Panthers are good, but how good? Can they win the Stanley Cup?
Vegas thinks so. Experts moved their Stanley Cup odds from 66/1 to 14/1 since the start of the year. If the team wins it all, it has joked about having a parade down Las Olas Boulevard, which seems sort of sad.
So, anything else I should know?
The Panthers are changing their logo and uniforms soon, so there is that. Apparently the panther will be more realistic and less cartoon-X-MEN looking.
So now that everyone is going to the Panthers games, tickets must be impossible to get or extremely overpriced, right?
Ha, no. It's still hockey, and they still play in Sunrise, at an arena that has made more memories for Ariana Grande fans than it has for Panthers fans over the past decade. You can still get a ticket on Stubhub for the price of a 12-pack.
Wow, I pay more than that for parking at Sun Life for a Dolphins game.
To be fair, parking is the funnest part of a Miami Dolphins game.
Fair point. Thanks for your help, I feel like I've learned something. See you at a Panthers game?
Maybe one or two — but if anyone asks — it was five.