Since the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, I’ve made a mistake that still brought me a lot of low-stakes joy. Every time someone mentions something about the Florida Panthers, or every time those same Florida Panthers win a game, I proudly and quite silly proclaim them “MY Panthers”. It’s a bit in the sense that they are only by the longest stretch of the imagination my Panthers. It started on April 20th in our Slack work, when Maitreyi blogged about MY Panthers Game 2 win over the so-called world-conquering Merchants of Doom that were the Boston Bruins, which was also pretty much when I started to – vaguely – pay attention to how Florida was doing in the playoffs.
I was so innocent then. I barely knew who Matthew Tkachuk was, but I knew he existed because I worked on a sports website and read, if not always, the ramblings of my hockey-sick colleagues. I learned that Matthew Tkachuk and Brady Tkachuk are brothers. (I also stuck with the names Artem Zub and Kaapo Kakko, although I’m not sure why.) I also knew enough to know that the Panthers should have been crushed by Boston, while understanding that season success Regular doesn’t mean that much in hockey as it does in other sports, although MY Miami Heat does its best to refute that in basketball as well.
So when I saw that the Panthers had come back from 3-1 against the Bruins to force a Game 7, I tuned in. And when they won that game in overtime, I was screaming and screaming.
Playoff overtime hockey is something I’ve always enjoyed, given the nature of sudden death sports and hockey’s penchant for having a goal out of nowhere, at least for a neophyte like me who doesn’t not see the signs of incoming sirens. It was also at this time that I decided to officially launch a team that is, for all intents and purposes, the hockey team of my youth.
I grew up in Miami-Dade County, which even on its northern end is still a good 35 minutes from the Panthers arena at Sunrise. I have never attended a Panthers game, although I have spent time in their arena. My very first gig was there, because my brother took me, 10, to see Godsmack opening for Limp Bizkit. We were also there a year before, at the WWF Armageddon show in 1999, which was only memorable because Miss Kitty flashed the crowd after winning a hen party dress match. (Wrestling in the late 90s was a disaster.)
The thing is, I know Sunrise, Florida, but I don’t know the Panthers or their history at all. I know they made the Stanley Cup Final once before, in 1996, and there have been recent rumors of skill since then, and a lot of trash in between. Back when I used Facebook, I knew when the Panthers were good because people who had never watched a second of hockey started posting like, well, like me. “MY Panthers” is a disease, and it’s contagious. I used to despise that kind of movement. But now? Now they are MY Panthers too.
The bandwagon has its uses, after all. I wouldn’t be a New England Patriots fan if I hadn’t jumped on the bandwagon in the 1996 season. There I was, I was 7 and I lived in Connecticut, of all places, after my family immigrated from Venezuela, and I had never seen football before. Why wouldn’t I choose the local team that was doing really well? The fact that they made the Super Bowl only to lose gave me the right mix of joy and pain that made the fandom stick.
I have a similar relationship with hockey now that I had with football then. I really don’t know what icing is, despite having researched it. I didn’t really realize that hockey players come and go as often as they do. And, when those playoffs started and the Panthers started taking them to the Bruins, I didn’t know a single player on Florida’s roster, not even to answer Ray Ratto’s “name a Panther” challenge after the umpteenth time I called them my own.
It does not matter! This is really not the case. I now know that Tkachuk is an inevitably winning machine. I am aware that Sergei Bobrovsky is my new goalkeeper. I’m all-in on Panthermania after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games and the Carolina Hurricanes in four. Well, most of the time. I missed the fourth of four overtimes in this icy Game 1 ballet, turning off to go to bed at the end of the third overtime period. It was 1am and I was tired, but if I could do it again I would suffer for this fandom.
That’s what the bandwagon can do. It can allow you to have fun, even if somewhat fabricated and self-aware, in something you wouldn’t otherwise care about. That’s how I got swept away by the “Go Birds” this whole past NFL season. That’s how an idea Morocco could do well at last winter’s World Cup turned into a full-on entree for the Atlas Lions as they took on France in the semi-finals. final.
Because sports aren’t always so fun when you live and die with a team, win or lose. Argentina’s journey through the World Cup nearly killed me as I hoped Lionel Messi would finally get his trophy. Every Pats playoff game made me physically nauseous. Watching the Miami Heat in these playoffs probably took years of my life, and I currently live in deep fear that they will become the first NBA team to take a 3-0 lead.
It was nice, then, to have a team that I can lean on without getting too invested in their (mostly) ups and (rarely) downs in the playoffs. I had game 4 on my second monitor Wednesday night, while playing World of Warcraft on my main screen. I have to admit, I missed Tkachuk’s winning match; we were in the middle of an intense boss fight.
It doesn’t matter, though. When you’re on the go, being late is part of the deal. Minutes later, after my best friend blew my phone up with ice cream and cat emojis, I took to Twitter, found a replay of the goal and smiled as Tkachuk slid down the ice, 4.9 seconds from the Stanley Cup final. . I’m going to watch these games because MY Panthers are a team of destiny and they will knock out the Vegas Golden Knights (probably? Can the Dallas Stars come back from 3-0? I sure don’t know!) to lift the cup. It won’t mean as much to me as it does to dedicated Panthers fans, those who have been going to Sawgrass Mills for years, but that’s okay. I do not need it. I’m just happy to be with you for Mr. Tkachuk’s crazy ride.
Register or login to continue.
See all subscription options.