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Full Circle: Chase Priskie returns to Florida Panthers ‘Learn to Play’ — this time as a Panther



Florida Chase Priskie Panthers
Pictures of a young Chase Priskie showing off his love of hockey — and the Florida Panthers. / Courtesy of Chase Priskie

When Chase Priskie was a child growing up in Pembroke Pines, his parents took him to one of the Florida Panthers ‘Learn to Play’ programs.

It was there where Priskie started to learn the fundamentals of the game and fuel his love of that game as well.

On Saturday morning, Priskie was back on the ice as the Panthers resumed their youth skating program after it has been halted due to the pandemic.

Things were a bit different, of course.

And we are not even talking about the kids and instructors wearing protective masks.

No, the biggest difference was that now Priskie has gone from student to teacher.

Florida Chase Priskie Panthers

Chase Priskie / @NHL

The kid from Pembroke Pines is all grown up now, and he says it was “an honor” to be asked by the Panthers to return and try and instill some knowledge to kids who may, someday, try and make it to the NHL.

But, as much as things change, they sometimes remain the same.

When Priskie was a kid, one of the instructors the Panthers brought onto the ice was Peter Worrell.

Priskie says now that he was a bit scared of Worrell back when he was a little kid, Worrell’s reputation as a team enforcer preceding him.

“I was terrified of him,” Priskie said with a chuckle.

Today, Worrell and Priskie are close friends.

Worrell not only coached Priskie at North Broward Prep but helped guide him to further his hockey career away from his home in South Florida.

On the ice with Priskie on Saturday was his old pal Peter Worrell and, he says, it just felt right.

Priskie even says he cannot wait to help those kids out again next week.

“I did ‘Learn to Play’ when I was a kid and that is part of the reason I got so into it,” Priskie said Saturday afternoon. “It was awesome, I had a great time. Working with those kids kind of reminded me of how I got started in hockey.

“It was fun to give back a little and certainly brought back a lot of memories.”

Priskie has been going to Panthers games earlier than he can actually remember, his mom and dad having season tickets at Miami Arena and taking their bundle of joy to his first game on April 14, 1996 when he was not even a month old.

Fast forward a few years and Priskie is now a member of the Panthers, a defenseman who is working to become the first South Florida born-and-raised player to play for the team.

The Panthers acquired Priskie in February from Carolina as part of the Vincent Trocheck deal, the local kid being one of four players coming back to the Panthers.

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“Hearing I got traded to Florida, to my hometown team, I was just eccstatic,” Priskie said in April following the shutdown of both the NHL and the AHL, where he had been playing in Springfield.

“I heard from childhood friends and some people I had not talked two in five or 10 years. They were all telling me how excited they were to come to games when I made the team. It was a cool feeling.”

Florida pursued Priskie as a free agent out of Quinnipiac last summer, but he decided to sign with Carolina instead.

Dale Tallon brought him back. Priskie is now one of only two players from that deal (Eetu Luostarinen is the other) to remain with the Panthers.

Lucas Wallmark wasn’t given a qualifying offer and signed with the Blackhawks while Erik Haula remains a free agent.

Priskie had hoped to make his debut with the Panthers over the summer but a lower body injury he sustained on the opening day of training camp with Carolina back in September flared up again and kept him off the ice.

Although he traveled to Toronto and was skating there, the lost time in the final days of camp in Coral Springs all but wiped away any chance of getting into the lineup.

“When I got to training camp with the Panthers, I kind of tweaked it a little bit,’’ Priskie said.

“I was really upset during the return to play because I felt I was pushing for a roster spot, especially in the exhibition against the Lightning and then to play against the Islanders. To aggrevate that injury again because I felt I could have helped the team.”

Priskie says he feels 100 percent again, the time off since returning from Toronto having helped him get back into shape to the point where he does not even feel like he was hurt in the first place.

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He and a number of current and now former teammates have been working out in South Florida gearing up for an eventual return.

“We have a pretty good group working out,” Priskie said. “It started out with just a couple of us but now it has grown week by week.”

Making the Panthers out of camp this season will not be easy as the Panthers have added depth to their defense.

Although the team traded Mike Matheson and Josh Brown, it also traded for Markus Nutivaara and signed Radko Gudas.

Priskie will be battling Riley Stillman and Brady Keeper, at the very least, for the No. 7 defenseman spot on the team.

“I am doing everything I can to make sure I am at 100 percent for the beginning of the season whenever that may be,” Priskie said. “I have to make sure I put the best product out there on the ice when we resume play.’’

Still, it appears his dream of taking the ice and making his NHL debut with the Panthers is closer than ever.

All the Panthers stuff his mother Lisa Evans saved over the years has come in handy.

“Being selfish,” Worrell said, “when he does make his NHL debut, it’s going to be a lot easier for me to be in the building.”

One day, and perhaps that day is soon, Chase Priskie will be able to skate at the Sunrise arena he grew up in watching and cheering on his hometown team.

“I think that arena is one of the most underrated places in hockey,” Priskie said in the spring. “We may not sell out every game like in Montreal or something, but the Panthers have helped grow this game exponentially since they came here in 1993.

“It has impacted so many people’s lives. Just look at my life. It is hard to express. This team is so valuable to our community. People who aren’t from here may not understand that. A lot of grew up trying to emulate those Panthers players over the years.”

And, at least on Saturday in Coral Springs, a bunch of local kids looked up to Chase Priskie and tried to emulate him.

“It is crazy how things come full circle,” Priskie said. “I never would have imagined being in this situation and, now I am here. It is crazy how good some of these kids are, too. They are lightyears ahead of where I was at their age.”

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