Welcome to the Dwork On Sports blog. This is a place where I’ll cover all things related to South Florida sports, with a steady combination of facts and opinions while ultimately keeping a close eye on anything and everything related to our local teams.
On Monday I participated in the Florida Panthers’ Goal of a Lifetime goalie tryout at the BB&T Center. It was a fun and unique experience that I won’t soon forget.
Let me preface this by explaining that I have a decent amount of goaltending experience at a fairly high level. In the early 2000’s I played three years of American juniors for teams in Jackson, Michigan, Exeter, New Hampshire and Pennsauken, New Jersey.
But that was a long time ago.
Since ending my hockey career in 2004 I have still remained active in the sport, playing in several local South Florida leagues for multiple teams, though the level of play doesn’t compare to what I enjoyed while playing up north. Which is absolutely fine by me, as my level of play doesn’t compare to when I was up north either.
Now let’s fast forward back to Monday. I arrived at the rink a little before noon with all my equipment in tow.
After signing in, I made my way to the locker room that was assigned for members of the media that were participating in the event.
My ice time wasn’t slated to begin until 1:30 p.m. so after dropping off my stuff I made my way to the ice to speak with Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas and a few other people involved in the tryout, such as radio play-by-play voice Randy Moller.
They gave us an idea of what to expect and what they were planning on putting the goalies through during the tryout.
As the first group of puck-stoppers took the ice (the 65 selected goalies were split into two groups, with half going first and then half going after our media session), we spoke with some of the Panthers alumni that were acting as shooters.
Getting a chance to share the ice and chat with some of my childhood heroes, like Radek Dvorak and Bill Lindsay, was really something.
I also talked with ESPN anchor Linda Cohn, who has played goalie for years and even played during college. It was an interesting goalie-to-goalie chat about our old playing days, our current playing days and working in the giant realm of broadcast journalism.
Linda is a very friendly, positive and outgoing person with a great outlook on life. She’s also not too bad at stopping the puck, which I would soon find out.
Watching the first group during their tryout brought back some great memories. It reminded me of the goalie camps that I used to attend and work at during my playing days.
Back then I would travel up to Mississauga, Ontario where my goalie coach held his annual summer camps. It was quite the sight as countless goaltenders shared the ice and were split into groups, with each group getting their own net (there were usually at least 10 nets on the ice at once) and rotating through all the different drills.
Between attending the camps to hone my craft and then later working as an instructor, it brought back some very cool memories that I hadn’t thought about in a long time.
After watching most of the first session I headed back to the locker room to start getting ready.
Once the ice had been cleaned by the Zamboni it was time to get out there and show off my skills. Or something like that.
After a quick introduction into our session by Tallas, we were put to work doing a few different skating drills. This is where I quickly realized how good of shape I must’ve been in during my playing days.
Things that I had previously done with ease and little effort now had me huffing, puffing and struggling to keep up with the pace that Tallas set for us.
I felt much more at home once we started taking shots from the Panthers alums, though I was pleasantly surprised to see a few current players join the fun.
As I skated to the far end of the ice to start stopping some pucks, I saw Shawn Thornton, Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Hayes, all current members of the Panthers, heading in the same direction.
First I was in net facing former Panthers player and current assistant coach John Madden and Thornton. They did a drill where each were standing near one of the two faceoff circles inside the zone, with one passing the puck to the other and then taking a shot.
I felt good after stopping a handful of shots taken by Thornton, but when they switched sides of where the shots were coming from, they also upped the effort. Suddenly I was getting shelled by Madden, who almost effortlessly shot the puck past me and into the net before I could even reach the far post.
I appreciated their effort to hold back the laughter as they saw me struggling for air after the first few rounds. I’m never the guy who minds being laughed at and I was glad they seemed to be enjoying it as much as I was.
After taking a much needed break for a few minutes, I was back in the net but this time it was Pirri and Hayes taking the shots. Talk about thrilling!
When Tallas finally and mercifully blew his whistle to signify the end of our session I was ready for a break.
Skating around the BB&T Center ice and going up to the current and former Panthers players in a non-work setting was very cool. Usually, if I’m speaking to any of them its work related so small talk doesn’t really happen.
That wasn’t the case on this day though. Talking to Tomas Vokoun about playing in ‘beer leagues’ (a slang term used for adult hockey leagues in local rinks across North America), or hearing Thornton tell me that I had no chance of being the Panthers goalie (with a smile, but still being very serious) was great.
The tryout couldn’t have gone any better and while I’m still feeling the effects a day later, it was a once in a lifetime experience that I’m beyond grateful for having the opportunity to participate in.
Yes, I realize that they weren’t taking shots at full strength on me, but I can still say that I stood in net and stopped pucks shot at me by NHL players.
On behalf of all the goalies lucky enough to be on that ice, I’d like to thank the Florida Panthers organization for setting up such a wonderful and unique opportunity.
While they have my phone number on file, I don’t expect to be hearing from them any time soon. Or ever. At least not to play goalie.
But Panthers, if you’re looking for someone to help tape sticks and sharpen skates… I’m just a phone call away!
Follow David on Twitter (@DavidDwork)