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PANTHERS ARE 20: Florida Drops Puck on 20th Opener on Friday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TAMPA -- Much has changed since the Panthers played their first home game in South Florida 20 years ago although there is plenty which has not.

The Panthers drop the puck on their 20th home opener on Friday at 7:30 -- one day shy of the 20th anniversary of the first game at Miami Arena.

The opponent on Friday is the same as it was in 1993 as Pittsburgh heads south. The Penguins won 2-1 on Oct. 11, 1993.

"It doesn't feel like 20 years at all because you have such fond memories of those times,'' said assistant coach Gord Murphy, a defenseman who scored the franchise's second goal in the 1993-94 season-opener at Chicago.

"Those days are at the front of your memory train. We were so scared in that first game you could hear a pin drop in that old Chicago Stadium locker room. It was an amazing time. We had never seen the jerseys before then. We had never worn them. It was quite a feeling knowing you were the first to do it.''

Although the team said it would play Friday's game in 1993-style jerseys, that won't happen because of league marketing rules. Instead, youngsters will wear jerseys representing the Panthers' lineup from that first night in Miami during introductions.

Former captain Brian Skrudland, who is the team's director of player development, and Rob Niedermayer (Florida's first draft pick in 1993) are expected to be on hand and will sign autographs during the intermission.

Former players and coaches with ties to Florida's first season who remain with the team include alternate governor Bill Torrey, assistant coaches Craig Ramsay and Murphy, as well as broadcasters Randy Moller and Billy Lindsay.

"That was one of the great experiences of my life and I've been in the business 43 years,'' Ramsay said. "To be part of picking that first team, that will never happen again.''

The franchise plans on celebrating not only its past, but its new beginnings as well. H. Wayne Huizenga, who brought the franchise to life in 1992, is expected to be in the building he built as is new owner Vinnie Viola.

The team will also unveil its much-anticipated $5 million high-definition scoreboard and will have the entire team meet fans and sign autographs for children following the game.

"You can't dwell in the past and I'm excited about the direction we're going now,'' Torrey said.


Renowned marine artist Guy Harvey created a design to celebrate the Panthers' 20th anniversary season. The design features a rendering of a panther in the wild as well as a pair of hockey sticks and some rats. It will be available on t-shirts as well as other merchandise at Friday's opener.

Harvey also did designs for the inaugural seasons of the Panthers and Marlins 20 years ago.

-- Goalie Tim Thomas (groin) worked out after Thursday's morning skate for about 20 minutes and took live shots from scratched players such as Matt Gilroy, Sean Bergenheim and Ed Jovanovski.


"Feels better,'' Thomas said as he walked into the locker room.

-- Shawn Matthias was sick and missed the morning skate but played Thursday night.