The Florida Jr Panthers Squirt A Major traveled to Nashville to take part in Jr NHL All Star Tournament, held in conjunction with NHL All Star game.
The tournament was held at the Ford Ice Center, the official practice facility of the Nashville Predators. The other participants were the PAL Jr Islanders AAA, NY Jr Rangers AA, Pittsburgh Jr Penguins Black AAA. Dallas Jr. Stars AAA Elite, Phoenix Jr Coyotes AA and Nashville Jr Predators AA.
As the only single A in the tournament and playing 15 minute periods (instead of the usual 12) the coaching staff knew the boys were in for some tremendous competition.
In game 1, the Panthers faced the hometown Predators and came out of the shoot flying. The boys out shot the Preds 33-15 and won 6-3 behind goals from Nicky Sykora, Christian Renaud, Michael Liam Hennessy and Tyler Fortson.
Game 2 pitted the Cats against the Coyotes and it turned out to be a one-sided affair. Lead by a hat trick from Topher Moore, a goal and 4 assists from Luke Zucker and stellar goaltending from CJ Sehlke, the Panthers won 12-0 to finish the first day tied in first.
Day 2 started with a game vs the NY Rangers. The Cats struck first with a wrister from the blue line from defensman Zucker and goals from Luke Melink, Renaud and Sykora. Up 4-0 in the 2nd and 4-1 going into the 3rd, the game length started to catch up to the Panthers. The Rangers sent wave after wave of forwards and ultimately tied the game with 3 minutes to go. Goalie Andrew Dubin made 3 incredible saves late in the game to keep the score even for the exhausted Cats. The game ended in a tie and disappointment.
The boys didn't have much time to wallow as they faced the AAA PAL Islanders, who had to win to make the semi-finals. The Cats came out strong and lead 3-0 going into the 3rd--lead again by Renaud and Sykora. Again, the deeper team from NY, this time the Islanders started to come in waves and eventually tied the game despite and absolutely tremendous game from CJ Sehlke. With a minute to go, the Islanders pulled their goalie and Christian Renaud made them pay--clinching the 2nd seed and a date vs the Pittsburgh Penguins AAA Elite Black in the semifinals.
The 7am puck drop against one of the best teams in the country didn't scare the Cats. The boys played extremely hard and, taking the lead from Coach Sykora, played for each other. Unselfish play lead the day and in a see-saw affair saw the Cats take a 4-3 lead with a minute to go. The Pens pulled their goalie and Andrew Dubin stood on his head, making save after to save, to hang on and clinch a spot in the finals.
In the finals, the Cats faced the #9 ranked team in the country--the Dallas Jr Stars Elite AAA, who as the top seed, had a bye into the finals. The Panthers fell behind 2-0 early but got a late goal from Renaud to cut the lead in half at the end of the 1st. Hennessy scored to tie it in the 2nd before the Stars scored to make it 3-2. After tying the game with 3 minutes to go in the 2nd, the Stars scored again to take the 4-3 lead into the 3rd. An errant whistle cost the Cats a breakway and, as luck would have it, the Stars came right back to scored to take a 5-3 lead. Late in the period, the Panthers pulled the goalie and the Stars clinched the Championship with a 7-3 score.
The boys gave everything they had for their coaches, for each other and for themselves. The parents could not have been prouder of their performance, effort, class and sportsmanship. Not a bad showing for the 260th ranked team in the US.
Besides the tournament, most of the team attended NHL Fanfest, the NHL Skills Competition and the All Star Game and had the opportunity to meet NHL Stars PK Subban, Shea Webber, Cory Schneider, John Scott and Ryan McDonagh. All in all, it was an experience that no one in the Panther family will forget.