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Six Years After Tragedy, Florida Panthers Keep Parkland in Their Heart



Photos courtesy AP, Florida Panthers, George Richards

It has now been six years since tragedy struck South Florida when 14 students and three faculty members died in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The school is about four miles from where the Panthers had their training facility, and several players and coaches called home, including goalie Roberto Luongo.

It still resonates today.

“It was obviously a horrible tragedy,’’ said Aaron Ekblad, who, along with captain Sasha Barkov are the only players on the Panthers who remain from Florida’s 2017-18 team. 

“Remembering the lives lost is something the Florida Panthers and the players here … the ones who were here, and then guys like Roberto Luongo who it hit very close to home. It is one of those things where remembering the lives and the families and keeping them in our thoughts all the time is something very important to our organization. It is great we do those things — and it is continued remembrance, it’s not just one day a year.”

There will be special tributes and memorials throughout South Florida on this sixth anniversary of the tragedy.

As was the case that Wednesday afternoon, the Panthers are away from home. 

That day, they were in Vancouver.

Today, the Panthers are in Pittsburgh. 

As it has done every year since, the organization has several special events planned back home — some of which have already occurred.

Prior to Saturday’s game against Colorado, the Panthers honored retired Lieutenant Colonel and Sr. Army instructor Mark Anders from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas JROTC Program; the MSD JROTC presented the colors.

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Today, flowers will be laid at the permanent MSD memorial case at Amerant Bank Arena in memory of those who lost their lives.  

The organization is expected to have other remembrances throughout the day with the team honoring those lost in some small way while in Pittsburgh.

Last year in St. Louis, the Panthers all came to the arena wearing special shirts commemorating the victims.

The Florida Panthers Foundation also provided a $20k grant to Make Our Schools Safe in 2023, adding two game tickets in each bulletproof backpack, which was distributed last week. 

On Tuesday, team staff packed 144 boxes and 150 bags of non-perishable food, which will help families in need within Broward County Public Schools. 

Today, the Panthers and Harvest Drive will drop off the packed food to two local Broward County middle schools.

Six years ago, the Panthers played through their grief as the Vancouver Canucks held a moment of silence prior to the start of that game, one the Panthers won 4-3.

“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 following weeks, the Panthers tried to console friends and neighbors while dealing with a tragedy that hit very close to home.

In the first home game after that road trip on Feb. 22, Luongo addressed the crowd, 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.

”Thank you.”

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.”

In 2022, 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.

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.



  • When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: PPG Arena, Pittsburgh
  • TV/Streaming: TNT/HBO Max
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Season Series (Panthers Lead 2-0) — At Florida: Panthers 3, Penguins 1 (Dec. 8). At Pittsburgh: Panthers 3, Penguins 2 (SO) Jan. 26; Wednesday.
  • Last Season: Penguins won 2-1
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Penguins lead 56-37-8, 4 ties
  • All-time Playoff Series: Florida d. Pittsburgh 4-3, 1996 Eastern Conference finals
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday at Buffalo, 7 p.m.

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