Wayne Huizenga sadly passed away last week. So, let’s look at the amazing legacy that he had with the Florida Panthers.
When it was announced that Wayne Huizenga had passed away at the age of 80 on March 22nd, 2018, everyone grieved at the terrible loss of such an icon. Not only had Wayne Huizenga been an incredible businessman in creating many popular and huge companies, but he was also the pioneer for bringing more sports franchises to South Florida. He is the main reason why South Florida is now home to both the Miami Marlins and the Florida Panthers.
It was in December of 1992 when Wayne was given the opportunity to bring ice hockey to South Florida. Though Huizenga had already founded the Marlins and was part owner of the Miami Dolphins, creating an entirely new team to join the NHL was no problem for him. While many other owners would be satisfied with just owning one franchise, Huizenga was determined to bring the incredible sport of ice hockey to South Florida.
When it came to naming Florida, rather than choosing a name solely for its flashiness, Huizenga chose to name Florida after an endangered species. By choosing to name his new franchise: the Florida Panthers, Huizenga also dedicated money to helping out in preserving the endangered panthers’. Wayne Huizenga was committed to not only bringing hockey to South Florida, but was also committed in making sure he was also helping out the community.
Rather than waiting for the city to finish building a new arena for the Panthers to play in, Huizenga decided that the Panthers would play in the Miami Arena until an official Florida Panthers home was built. It was in this Miami Arena, that would leave many lasting memories for Florida Panther fans. Just one year after it was announced that South Florida would have an ice hockey franchise, the Florida Panthers took the ice and began their journey in the NHL.
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The first season with Huizenga as the owner was considered a huge success. Not only were the Panthers doing well in attracting fans to come out to games, but the Panthers had the best season ever for an expansion team. While this record was finally beaten by the Vegas Golden Knights just this year, the fact that the Panthers held that record for so long was a huge accomplishment for the franchise. Although the Cats didn’t make the playoffs in their first year, the season was a very promising start for the franchise.
After the second season yielding another year without the playoffs, the Panthers would break through that barrier in their third year. It was in Huizenga’s third season as the owner when the Panthers finally broke through and shocked the entire world. After qualifying for the playoffs for the first time as the fourth seed in the east, the Panthers stunned the NHL by beating the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, and the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins to clinch a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Though the Panthers would be swept in the Stanley Cup Finals, under Huizenga’s ownership, this would be the only time that the Panthers would make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Huizenga will always be forever known for being the owner that led the Panthers to a Stanley Cup Finals berth in just the third season in the existence of the Florida Panthers.
The Panthers would continue to struggle for a few more seasons before Huizenga decided it was time for him to leave the franchise. So, in 2001, Huizenga sold the franchise, and left the Panthers without their first owner. 25 years after Huizenga had created the Panthers, the Cats honored him by retiring the number 37. It was fitting that the Panthers honored him just months before he would pass on.
Wayne Huizenga’s legacy will forever live on. The things he did not only for sports in South Florida, but in the community will never be forgotten. As we look in the present, and as the Panthers are trying to close out the season on a high note, let us remember that if it weren’t for Huizenga, there might have never been the opportunity for the Panthers to play in the NHL.