Five years ago, tragedy hit the South Florida community when 14 students and three faculty members were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — about four miles from where the Panthers train and a number of their players and coaches call home.
The Panthers were on the road in Vancouver that day, many of the players being alerted by family members and spending the hours before their game against the Canucks watching news reports from home.
It was obviously an emotional night for the Panthers as the Canucks held a moment of silence before the puck dropped with the team fighting through their feelings and pulling out a 4-3 win.
“It’s a sad day,’’ captain Derek MacKenzie said after the win. “I wish I was there right now to talk to my family and neighbors and everyone that’s obviously been affected by this, but we can’t be there.
”So, the next best thing is to come up with a win.”
In the weeks to come, the Panthers tried to console their friends and neighbors all while dealing with a tragedy which hit very close to home themselves.
In the first home game back from that road trip on Feb. 22, goalie Roberto Luongo addressed the crowd in Sunrise before their game with Washington, giving an emotional speech in which he spoke off script and from the heart.
“I just want to start off by saying that I live in Parkland. I’ve been living there for the past 12 years. My wife was born and raised in that area. My kids go to school in Parkland,’’ Luongo said.
“When I’m done playing hockey, I want to spend the rest of my life in Parkland. I love that city.
“Last week was Valentine’s Day. I was in Vancouver. Obviously, we all know happened. It was hard for me to be on the West Coast and not be able to get back home and protect my family. No child should have to go through that. It’s terrible. It’s time for us as a community to take action. It’s enough. Enough is enough. We got to take action.
“To the families of the victims, our hearts are broken for you guys. There’s not much to say. It’s heartbreaking. You guys are in our thoughts. We’ve been thinking about you every day constantly for the last week. Just to know that we’re there for you if you guys need anything. You’ll be in our prayers. Let’s try and move on together. …
“To the teachers of the school, you guys are heroes protecting your children. Some of them didn’t make it, trying to protect children. That is truly what a hero is. Those people need to be put on a pedestal for the rest of their lives.
“The last thing I want to say is since last Wednesday, I’ve been watching the news and I’ve been seeing what the kids from Stoneman Douglas have been doing. I am very, very proud of you guys. You guys are brave. You guys are an inspiration to all of us. At the end of the day, you guys are what’s giving us hope for the future.
When the Panthers retired Luongo’s No. 1 in 2020, his passionate and heartfelt speech from that night was remembered.
“The wisdom you displayed,’’ owner Vinnie Viola said, “brought a feeling of confidence and safety to not only South Florida but across this nation. Your words were clear, heartfelt and we knew everything would be OK.”
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) February 15, 2018
Five years later and the Panthers are away from home again.
Things have tried to go back to normal in Parkland as the school reopened for the 2018-19 school year.
Late last year, Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in what is the deadliest mass shooting at a high school in the United States.
He was sentenced to life in prison in November.
No one has forgotten that day — or the lives taken.
The team still has a reminder of the tragedy in their arena with a permanent tribute on the 100 level of the building.
Flowers will be placed at the arena memorial today.
Of the players who were with the Panthers in 2018, and wore the MSD patches on their jerseys for the remainder of that season, only Sasha Barkov and Aaron Ekblad remain.
Luongo is in the team’s front office, living in Parkland as he said he would be.
On Tuesday, the team plan to all wear special t-shirts with the names of the victims printed on them as they make their way to the Enterprise Center in St. Louis for their game against the Blues.
The Panthers’ two digital marquees outside the arena will display ‘MSD Strong’ with the names of the 17 victims as staff members will observe a moment of silence.
On Tuesday night, Shawn Thornton and a few members of the team’s staff will go to the City of Parkland Commemoration event to drop off flowers for the memorial along with handwritten notes from the team’s staff.
Flags at the arena — and throughout the State of Florida by order of Gov. Ron DeSantis — will fly at half mast today as well.
“For all of them, their biggest fear was that their loved one would be forgotten,” former Parkland mayor and current state Rep. Christine Hunschofsky told the Associated Press in a story about all of the charitable works and causes the parents and spouses of those killed continue to this day.
“They do this work to keep their spirit alive. … It is really important to remember that no matter how many ‘good things’ have come out of the aftermath, no one is ever the same again. No one loses that pain.”
For a list of all of the works the parents and spouses of those who died on Feb. 14, 2018, in the shooting, please visit the Associated Press site HERE.
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT ST. LOUIS BLUES
- When: Tuesday, 8 p.m.
- Where: Enterprise Center, St. Louis
- Streaming ONLY: ESPN+/Hulu
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Blues lead 1-0): St. Louis 5, Florida 4 (OT), Nov. 26
- Last season: Split 1-1
- All-time regular season series: St. Louis leads 25-12-1, 3 ties
- Up Next for the Florida Panthers: Thursday at Washington Capitals, 7 p.m.