Panthers have taken over youth hockey program, hope to keep budding stars in South Florida

Last June, five young men who began their youth hockey careers playing for the Junior Panthers in Coral Springs realized their dreams by being drafted by NHL organizations.

However, a less attractive common denominator among Jakob Chychrun, Riley Stillman, Andrew Peeke, Chase Priske and Brandon Duhaime was that they all had to leave South Florida as young teens to East Coast hotbeds in Michigan, Massachusetts and Canada to truly hone their skills to make it to the next level.

The rapidly improving Florida Panthers intend to put an end to that.

While the Junior Panthers proudly represented the Panthers for the past 19 years, their only real connections were the crests on their jerseys and state-of-the-art three-sheet IceDen facility. Now, the Panthers have completely taken over the youth hockey program and have hired a new management team.

Bates, a Boston native who played professional hockey in London, added: “We will create a training center of excellence.”

A few weeks ago, Panthers general manager Tom Rowe held court at a meeting in the BBT Center in which he, president/CEO Matt Caldwell, executive chairman Peter Luukko, J.B Spisso, the director of leadership and cultural development, and newly hired members of the IceDen management team met with 400 parents of youth hockey players.

The Panthers’ contingent explained how they studied other successful youth programs around the country that had direct affiliations with NHL teams, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ elite junior program.

Panthers director of community relations talks about grassroots program for youth

Panthers director of community relations talks about grassroots program for youth

Florida Panthers director of community relations John Colombo talks about all the grassroots hockey program the Panthers are offering children to spark their interest in the sport.

Florida Panthers director of community relations John Colombo talks about all the grassroots hockey program the Panthers are offering children to spark their interest in the sport.

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“It’s vital we have a great youth hockey program and build a family atmosphere in the IceDen,” Rowe said. “Some of my best friends in life came from my days in youth hockey. I love to be part of the community, and it’s important we’re not sitting on the sidelines.

“Also, it’s nice to create a diehard fan base for years to come. The second piece is [owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu] feel it’s our responsibility to develop these programs to a level where the kids go on to play college hockey or the pros. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Division I or III.

“The combination of playing hockey and [school] combines to create more rounded people, even if they don’t become NHL players.”

Rowe said that the Panthers’ youth program will have a symbiotic relationship with other ice skating rinks in South Florida, particularly with Olli Jokinen’s newly formed South Florida Hockey Academy in the Glacier Ice and Snow Arena in Lighthouse Point. They will compete against each other on the ice, and if Jokinen has an overflow of players he would send them to the Junior Panthers.

Adam Torregrossa’s 9-year-old son Jonathan is a forward for the Squirt A Major travel team. Torregrossa, a Panthers season-ticket holder, said it cost approximately $7,000 per year for a travel team player, with $3,800 going to the Panthers for participation fees. He was impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment from the Panthers’ brass at the meeting.

“I don’t think anyone wants their child to leave home and live in someone else’s house and you get to pay attention from phone calls after the game,” said Torregrossa, of Coral Springs. “I really felt their commitment because in the past the communication was absent. Now when you go to the IceDen it has more of a hockey feel, and we don’t feel like we’re taking a back seat to figure skating. There’s a vision and goal just like the NHL team over time.”

The Panthers hired Keith Fine to replace Jeff Campol as general manager of the IceDen. Like several other executives in the Panthers’ organization, including Viola, Caldwell, co-GM Eric Joyce and Spisso, Fine developed his leadership skills at West Point and in the Army.

“We want to provide a world-class facility and the next three years we want to grow from 10 Junior Panthers teams to where we are currently to 25 teams,” said Fine, 30, a former professional handball player. “We will bring the best coaches from around the country to provide the best programs on ice, the clinics.

“With buy-in support from [the Panthers and their alumni], we want to create the most organized structured program and provide a fun experience for these kids on and off the ice.”

John Colombo, a carryover from the previous regime who is director of community relations, is putting sticks in kids’ hands as young as 4 years old in his Learn to Play program. He has also initiated a Floor Ball hockey program that will be played in Dade and Broward county schools this Fall.

Other key members of the IceDen team are Matthew Janusz, the youth hockey manager, and Panthers chief of staff Sean McCaffrey.

Article source: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/parkland/fl-florida-panthers-0903-20160903-story.html

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