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Florida Panthers Attendance Rising, Players Appreciate It

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Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky heads out onto the ice prior to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 8 in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

SUNRISE — A funny thing happened when the Florida Panthers dispatched the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs last spring.

Not only was their building still full, but it was missing many of the visiting fans — and those who relocated to South Florida but kept their hockey loyalties — who had helped pack the cavernous arena on the edge of the Everglades.

The Panthers, for the first time in a very long time, had a real home ice advantage.

And they still do.

Although every building has its share of visiting fans in it, the Panthers have seen a marked increase in attendance this season with the vast majority supporting the local team.

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It was noticed when the Panthers had an announced attendance of 19,288 for the home opener against Toronto on Oct. 19 and continued through Monday’s sold out crowd against Edmonton.

The Bruins are in town tonight and a large Boston contingent is expected, but it may not be as pronounced as in past years.

The Panthers are finally one of the hottest tickets in town.

“It’s awesome,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said. “It does matter, when you’re on the bench and you have a lot of fans from the other team. We don’t see their sweaters anymore. It’s all Panthers sweaters. That matters. You can feel it; the crowd is energized and having a good time.

“When the other team scores, it is quiet in our building and that’s the way it should be. That’s nice for the players. I am glad the players get to play in that environment and I think the fans here enjoy the style of hockey we play.”

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The on-ice success of the Panthers over the past few seasons has definitely led to an increased interest in the team.

In previous years, the team would start to draw fans but their success was so short-lived, the crowds thinned out again.

In 2012, the Panthers finally ended what was an NHL-record 12-year postseason drought by winning the Southeast Division; in 2013, they were in last place and did not return to the postseason until 2016.

The Panthers failed to build on that success, either, missing the playoffs in 2017 following a discombobulated season. They would not return to the playoffs again until 2021.

Now that the team has made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, fans have returned to Sunrise in droves.

The home opener against the Maple Leafs was the first sellout of the season.

Two more would follow.

When the Bruins return tonight, the Panthers will have sold out three straight regular season games for the first time in decades.

With three consecutive playoff appearances, a Presidents’ Trophy and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the Panthers are hot.

“The easy time to (look around) was last year in the Stanley Cup Final,” said Aaron Ekblad, Florida’s second-longest tenured player behind captain Sasha Barkov.

“We did do a little bit of that, looking around and realizing how far we have come as a team and as a franchise. To be a part of that the whole way has been really cool. Now we just want to be a team that is consistently good and bring it all the way to the end every year, find a way to get it done.”

Through the first eight games this season, the Panthers are averaging 17,892 fans which ranks No. 16 in the NHL and is better than the likes of Pittsburgh, Boston and Philadelphia.

The Amerant Bank Arena is playing to 93 percent capacity (ranked 20th in the NHL) as its current configuration accounts for 19,250 for hockey.

Monday night, the Panthers announced 19,628 — or 102 percent of capacity.

And, with the team announcing before the season that the entire lower bowl had been sold, these numbers may just go up as the home campaign goes along.

While certain hockey fans purists may not be impressed, it is hard not to notice the change of support in Sunrise.

For contrast, the best home attendance the Panthers ever had came in the first year of the arena in 1998-99 when it averaged 18,493 fans per night which ranked fourth in the NHL.

Last year, the Panthers ranked 26th in the league at 16,682 — but that does not factor in the nine playoff games which were all over capacity.

The Panthers have come a long way since Vinnie Viola bought the team in 2013.

That first season, the Panthers ranked just above the Arizona Coyotes by averaging 14,525.

The following season, after the team ended all giveaway tickets, attendance hit rock bottom with an average of 11,271.

Although it has been a battle since, the attendance is finally consistently ticking up.

Panthers attendance

The Panthers have been very tough to beat on home ice, at least this season.

Florida comes into tonight’s game 7-1 at home with six consecutive wins since losing to Vancouver on Nov. 21.

PANTHERS ON DECK

BOSTON BRUINS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: TNT, HBO Max
  • Radio: WAXY 790-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932; NHL App
  • Last Season — Regular Season: Tied 2-2; Playoffs: Florida won 4-3 (first-round)
  • This season — Bruins Lead 1-0: @Boston 3, Florida 2 OT (Oct.30), April 6; @Florida Wednesday, March 26
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Boston leads 61-37-7, 6 ties
  • All-time Postseason Series: Florida leads 2-0 (1996, 2023)
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Friday vs. Winnipeg, 7 p.m.

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