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One Last Trip Down Memory Lane: Panthers Say Goodbye to the Igloo

Mellon

NEWARK --Taking the long way to Pittsburgh today, and that's probably no shock to many of you who check in here from time to time.

Hopefully I make it to Blitzburgh in time for kickoff.

Or at least the 9 p.m. showing of 'The U' on ESPN. Figure I'll watch that in Randy Sexton's box atop Mellon Arena. He has a TV in there, you know.

With ESPN taking a look back at the glory years of The U tonight, the Panthers will get one more game on the site of this franchise's biggest achievement. It was here, on Pittsburgh ice, where the Panthers stunned the hockey world and upset the Penguins 3-1 in Game 7 of the 1996 Eastern Conference finals.

The Panthers, a third-year hockey team with many players no one had ever heard of, was going to the Stanley Cup Finals.

I know some of you get tired of us bringing up the 1996 team all the time, but I don't apologize. For those who were living in South Florida at that time, it was a magical run with a team it was hard not to fall in love with. Yes, the Panthers were very popular in South Florida at one time, with that '96 team getting Wayne Huizenga his arena out in the Everglades. Without that, this team would have been in Kansas City or Nashville a long time ago.

Hard to believe how the Panthers have absolutely lost their cache in our market in such a short time. And it wasn't just the Miami Arena '96 team that was popular, either. It was actually hard to get a ticket to games in Sunrise back in the day. Of course, they didn't give them away at Quarterdeck or offer them online for less than a buck, either.

Anyway, spoke to Bill Lindsay, Radek Dvorak and one Doug MacLean yesterday for a story I wrote on Florida's final game in The Igloo.

My favorite part of the story got chopped out because of space concerns. I can just picture this scene, can't you?

Both MacLean and Bill Lindsay recall the late-night bus ride to the Pittsburgh airport with great fondness. The Panthers weren’t ready to end their celebration when they left the arena, so the team bus pulled up to a local bar and picked up some supplies for the road.

“That was the best moment of my hockey life,’’ said Lindsay, a winger on that team and now Florida’s television analyst.

“That bus ride was one you’ll never forget. We had the beverages and the cigars going, all the windows on the bus wide open. It was the best bus ride and plane ride I ever had.’’

Added MacLean: “It was amazing. The team bus just pulled up to a bar and got takeout service. It really was something out of Slapshot. That was the ultimate team building experience and one of the great group of guys of all time. I think about that team all the time.’’

This is the Panthers second and final game in Pitt this year, with the Penguins moving across the street to new digs next season.

So unless the Panthers make it to the playoffs and face the Pens, this is it for the Igloo.

I'm going to miss the press box.

No I'm not.

See you in Pittsburgh. Maybe.

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