Youth hockey popularity in SWFL and success of professional teams

Writer: Sylvie Sparks
Published: Updated:

The Florida Panthers have a chance to win the state’s third Stanley Cup in five years on Tuesday.

Between the Tampa Bay Lightning’s back-to-back Stanley Cup wins, the Panthers second straight appearance and the Everblades Kelly Cup three-peat the passion for ice hockey is spreading among southwest Florida youth.

“Every year with all the success of all the pro programs down here we’re getting more and more kids to try outs,” RzR Edge Academy and Florida Warriors hockey coach Chris Polino said.

Polino moved to Fort Myers from Philadelphia in 2018.

“Coming down here, I had no expectations to be involved with hockey,” Polino said. “I didn’t think it was down here.”

To Polino’s pleasant surprise hockey is here and it’s interest is growing.

Warriors’ President Rich Dantona told WINK News the youth hockey program has grown five percent each year since 2019.

Warriors’ 18U player James Cannon told WINK News what kids are saying about the increased interest and success of professional teams.

“I talked to a couple kids at my school who were thinking about starting hockey soon just because of what they’ve seen the Everblades do and the Panthers and Lightning,” Cannon said.

Cannon has been on skates since he was four years old because of his father.

He got his love for the Philadelphia Flyers from his dad too, but right now he’s cheering for the hometown team.

“I’m rooting for the Panthers right now,” Cannon said. “It’s the home team and they lost last year so it’s good for them to get a win this year.”

Florida is the first state to make five consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances since the New York Islanders run in the 1980s.

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