Score another major professional franchise for the Ministry of Tourism’s Sports Tourism department as the organisation played host to the Florida Panthers of the National Hockey League.
In conjunction with the Ministry of Tourism and JetBlue Airways, the Panthers conducted a youth clinic and social outreach programme over the weekend in the capital.
The contingent included defenseman Erik Gudbranson, Panthers mascot Stanley C. Panther as well as team broadcasters Bill Linday and Randy Moeller.
The Panthers visited the Children’s Ward at the Princess Margaret Hospital Friday afternoon and hosted a youth clinic Saturday morning at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium.
Virginia Kelly, Senior Manager of Sports Tourism, said it was another opportunity to have a major sports franchise in the south Florida area grant further exposure to the Bahamas.
“Through this partnership we have with JetBlue and the Florida Panthers it will give us numerous opportunities to bring the islands of the Bahamas to the forefront and create a new fanbase,” she said, “It really gets us in touch with that diverse fanbase that we do have, it is good for the good economy and it is really good from the social aspect that the Panthers were able to go over to the Children’s Ward at PMH and just put a smile on the kids’ faces.”
Moller said the initiative was aligned with the Panthers’ goal of community development among the youth.
“The Florida Panthers continue to pledge themselves to the benefit of youth and the development and health not only in the south Florida region but also to our neighbours in south Florida and the Caribbean. Through the partnership ship with Jet Blue we have been able to help in that cause and with Stanley C. Panther as our ambassador we have been able to tough a number of lives of youth throughout the region. This would not have happened without the great support of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, they were the ones as well as JetBlue that put this on,” he said, “A special thanks to Erik Gudbranson, our superstar player, thatr donated his time to come over. We are very appreciative of the hospitality and we look forward to coming back many many times. The commitment to youth is based on health and exercise so even though there are no hockey rinks in the Bahamas we believe kids can enjoy the game not only on ice but also on the street and we would like to continue that.”
The Panthers donated equipment to the Urban Renewal program to inspire the growth of street hockey locally.
“We were able to bring an over abundance of equipment – sticks, balls, nets and basic hockey equipment as well that we will donate for the kids in Nassau to continue on and enjoy the great game of hockey,” Moller said.
Gudbranson, the Panthers defenseman and 2010 No. 3 overall pick said he enjoyed his first visit to the country in a professional capacity and looks to create new Bahamian hocky fans for his franchise on the rise.
“This is my third time down here, first for a project like this and I think its great to come down here, get these kids active and spending an afternoon teaching them is alot of fun,” Gudbranson said, “We are much better this year, we made some very good moves in the off-season, we drafted well so I think everything points upward for our team. We have battled in the past couple seasons and now its time to turn it around for us. There’s a lot of work to be done but we are going to be able to push for every game. I think the best part of our team is that we are going to be competitive every single game and we weren’t for the past couple years. We have the making to turn some heads this year with our new coaching staff and young talent. We have to take our following personally because we haven’t been too successful. The best type of promotion is winning games. So if we continue to be competitive team throughout the season people will want to see us play and that fanbase will grow.”
Gudbranson was selected as the team’s nominee for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy. The King Clancy is awarded to the player in the NHL who best exemplifies leadership qualities both on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.
JetBlue, the Official Airline Partner of BB&T Center and the Florida Panthers, will provide complimentary round-trip airfare for the trip. JetBlue and the Panthers have partnered together promoting youth hockey and community outreach in the Caribbean for the last three years, hosting the previous two clinics in Puerto Rico.
“This is the third year we have conducted this outreach programme to one of our destinations,” said JetBlue representative Albert Ruiz, “Part of our JetBlue mantra is giving back to the communities and inspiring outreach and what better way to do that then.”