If the Miami Heat are the definition of South Beach, Dade County and multicultural largesse, then the Florida Panthers are the definition of Broward County. Both exciting, exceptionally attractive and a lifestyle and location that the overwhelming majority of fans around the country wish they had access to, particularly yesterday. (I mean, if you were in the Northeast, did you even contemplate stepping outside?). The beaches near Fort Lauderdale, the county’s literal gateway to the world, are more family-friendly and typically less outrageous, with Jimmy Buffett more likely to be the source of the soundtrack than Cardi B or 2 Chainz.
So it was as much a confirmation as it was a celebration when the NHL All-Star Weekend finally descended upon it, capped off by yesterday’s three-tiered game at the FLA Live Arena in Sunrise. Several years ago, the game abandoned the traditional format that had devolved into a glorified practice, with final scores more resembling lacrosse or even Dolphins football, and instituted a mini-tournament that segregated each period into a three-on-three overtime-like setup, with the winners of the first two stanzas squaring off in the final 20 minutes for a $1M prize.
In this manner, 38 goals scored in 60 minutes was more exciting, and a sellout crowd, many of them families partial to the hometown Panthers, were rewarded with a stirring performance from their new star, as CBS Sports’ Austin Nivison recounted:
As anyone could tell from watching these games throughout the afternoon, interest level can vary wildly from player to player in the All-Star game. Fortunately for the local Florida Panthers fans in Sunrise, Matthew Tkachuk was on a mission to show out for them.
In the Atlantic Division’s win over the Metro Division, Tkachuk found the back of the net three times for the hat trick, and he added a pair of assists to boot. In the championship matchup, Tkachuk notched another goal and an assist while leading the Atlantic team to a win.
Tkachuk was eventually rewarded for his efforts with the title of All-Star Game MVP and a new car from Honda.
It has been a frustrating season for the Panthers, but Tkachuk has been a major bright spot, including today’s performance. Since being traded to Florida from the Calgary Flames, Tkachuk has lived up to the hype with 25 goals and 66 points in 49 games. His popularity in Sunrise will only continue to grow after dominating the All-Star Game.
And yes, Tkachuk got to team with his brother Brady, currently with the struggling Ottawa Senators, in a performance especially appealing to the family-oriented crowd. The NHL’s gambit to expand into South Florida is now 30 years old, when both the Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning were born. A generation of Canadian and European players who welcomed the road trip to these markets has now retired and joined many other ex-Pats and carpetbaggers in settling into the region, particularly in Broward and more upscale areas farther north on I-95 like Boca Raton and the Palm Beaches.
Last year, the Panthers had the best regular season record in the league for the first time in their history, but failed to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs. This year, just getting back there will be a struggle. Tkachuk’s recent surge has paralled that of the team’s, so there’s at least some more excitement than there was a month or so ago. We know South Florida fans have high expectations, and clearly lots of better entertainment options at their disposal when results are medicore.
But yesterday, and for the glorious days just prior to it, hockey earned its place among those most selective. Even the non-humans seemed to have a blast.
I’m willing to bet they celebrated with their fans at some gorgeous beachfront watering hole well into the night. Because, hey, we know the best margaritas are better with lots of ice.