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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida Hockey Teams All Had Playoff Fever. Some Still Do



Florida hockey

FORT LAUDERDALE — There are six professional hockey teams in the state of Florida.

This season, all six made the playoffs.

In the NHL, the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning met in the first round.

The ECHL’s first round saw Estero’s Florida Everblades knock off the Jacksonville Icemen; the ‘Blades are currently playing the Orlando Solar Bears in the second round of the Kelly Cup playoffs.

The Pensacola Ice Flyers of the Southern Professional Hockey League lost to the Peoria Rivermen in the first round.

The Everblades rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Icemen and move on.

They beat Orlando 5-1 in the opener of the second round on Friday night.

“I listened to the last two games. We’re all over that,” said Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice, whose team is awaiting an opponent for the second-round of the playoffs. “I talked to their coach last night. That is a hard thing to do, an incredibly difficult thing to do.”

Maurice has a vested interest in the success of the Everblades.

Not only are they an affiliate of the Panthers — and once part of his former owner Peter Karmanos Jr.’s sports portfolio — but his youngest son Jake is the team’s communications director and one of the play-by-play voices.

Last year, the Panthers and Everblades both reached the Stanley Cup and Kelly Cup finals.

The Panthers lost.

Jake Maurice’s Everblades did not.

They won the franchise’s third championship, proving Paul Maurice’s claim that the Everblades are the “jewel of the ECHL” correct.

Started in 1998 as part of the hockey explosion in non-traditional markets — helped along by the Panthers run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final — the Everblades have missed the ECHL playoffs just one time in their existence.

The Everblades are currently trying to become the first team to win the Kelly Cup in three consecutive seasons.

With hockey teams taking hold in the state’s top metro markets, youth hockey is certainly on the upswing with major programs in the Tampa area, throughout South Florida and on the west coast at the Everblades’ facility between Fort Myers and Naples.

A number of players from Florida have made it to the NHL.

More are on the way.

To paraphrase what Maurice said on Thursday when talking about the Stanley Cup playoff system: Playoff hockey is good for everyone.

“It is fantastic. Different city-centers get to watch,” Maurice said Friday. “People are getting connected. The idea that ‘a rising tide raises all boats’ is true in hockey. The NHL teams go at it, the ECHL teams go at it and people can follow teams and players. It’s really good, and it is exciting hockey. It helps everyone. It develops youth minor programs.

“The stronger Florida and Tampa are, the more NHL players will be coming out of Florida. It happens all the time. This is a great sport, the kids see it on TV and all of a sudden, they’re playing street hockey. It catches fire.”

For the most in-depth coverage of the Florida Panthers:

*Round 1 Series Tied 3-3; Game 7 Saturday @ Boston, 8 (ABC)

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