When the elevator doors open on the eighth floor of the Chris Evert Children's Hospital at Broward General, you are greeted by wall murals depicting fans at a Panthers hockey game rooting on their team.
Truthfully, it's the Panthers backing the children at the hospital.
The Florida Panthers Foundation officially opened the hockey-themed pediatric oncology unit on Wednesday afternoon, making a $400,000 donation to the Broward Health Foundation.
Players Stephen Weiss and Cory Stillman attended the ceremony at the hospital as did owner Cliff Viner, team president Michael Yormark, foundation chairman Stu Siegel, general manager Dale Tallon and coach Pete DeBoer. All vowed the large donation and renovation of the oncology unit would not be the end of the Panthers involvement.
“I know a lot of the guys were looking forward to getting to see how this came out, and they will all get that chance,'' said Weiss, who along with Stillman and Bryan McCabe plan on purchasing a suite for patients and their families to enjoy during games.
“Anything to get their mind off what they are going through is special. I'm looking forward to coming back. We don't need to be invited. We can come over, hang out, play some hockey. We're welcome here and that's neat to see. I enjoyed seeing the kids. The looks on their faces was pretty cool.''
When Viner and Siegel took over managing the Panthers last year, they both stressed the team would become more involved in the South Florida community and that the Panthers Foundation would become more focused in its work.
“We wanted to do something that was meaningful and to our strength,'' said Viner, who is now the sole managing partner of the franchise. “We're a family-oriented franchise. While we can give for research or renovation of the hospital, what we can really provide is a tremendous amount of support by our family for the kids, the parents, the grandparents. When they come here, they know people care.''
Pediatric cancer was targeted as the foundation's main beneficiary. Goalie Tomas Vokoun, whose image adorns one of the elevators on the eighth floor, was known for his work with young cancer patients at Nashville's Vanderbilt University Hospital as a member of the Predators.
“I can't think of a better cause for us to get behind,'' said DeBoer. “As a father of three young children, I can't imagine what these parents go through, and more importantly, what these kids go through being here on a daily basis. Any way we can brighten their day, we'll do it.''
On the eighth floor, the walls are decorated with fan shots from BankAtlantic Center with player and mascot murals on the three elevator doors. The floor looks like a hockey rink – complete with a goal cage – so children can shoot pucks with the sticks the team has provided. Stillman left a large black smudge after he showed a youngster how to properly fire a slapshot.
“We focus so much on wins and losses, sometimes we lose sight of what this is all about and that is giving back to our community,'' said Yormark. “This is a proud moment for us. This is a collective commitment.''
Defenseman Jason Garrison (groin) missed practice again on Wednesday and will not be able to play Thursday against Dallas. Garrison could play Saturday against the Islanders. Keaton Ellerby was recalled from the Panthers AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., to play Thursday.
-- Winger Kenndal McArdle cleared waivers on Tuesday and was in the lineup for Rochester later that night. McArdle scored a goal in the Amerks 5-2 loss to Hamilton.
-- Tallon celebrated his 60th birthday on Tuesday in style as he received his Stanley Cup championship ring. Blackhawks president John McDonough flew to South Florida to present Tallon – who was Chicago's GM from 2004-09 – with the large ring worth an estimated $30,000.
“It's bigger than I thought it would be,'' Tallon said with a smile.
-- Winger Byron Bitz had sports hernia surgery in Philadelphia and will miss at least the next six weeks.
THURSDAY: STARS AT PANTHERS
Where, When: BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise; 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FS Florida; 560-AM
The Series: Tied 10-10-3
The Game: The Panthers have won two straight against the Stars, including last year's 6-5 shootout win in Dallas. Steven Reinprecht recorded a hat trick in the opening period of that game. .-.-. The Panthers have won their past two as Tomas Vokoun has recorded consecutive shutouts. Dallas won its first four to open the season before losing 5-4 in Tampa Bay on Monday. .-.-. Florida's five goals allowed are fewest in the league.