A number of Florida Panthers players have been in South Florida preparing for their upcoming season.
On Friday, a good many of them will jet out of the path of a Category 5 hurricane.
The Panthers chartered a plane to shuttle players, staff members and their families to Boston.
The team is also allowing pets on the flight north.
The team is paying for the flight and could open training camp in Springfield, Massachusetts, next week depending on the extent of the damage in and around Broward County.
A group of about 80 will depart Fort Lauderdale on Friday morning.
Players, coaching staff and hockey operations are part of the traveling party.
“We have the facilities in Springfield and could start camp there if we had to,” said team CEO Matthew Caldwell, who plans on riding out the storm at the arena.
“We hope this is just a couple days up in Massachusetts and a flight home. But we don’t know what’s going to happen, don’t know what we will sustain.”
“We have a good mix of players going up there and they’ll have great facilities in Boston. Hopefully everything works out here and we can fly them back in a few days.”
NHL players such as Vincent Trocheck, Sasha Barkov, Derek MacKenzie and Roberto Luongo are among those who are planning to take the Panthers up on their offer to evacuate the Sunshine State on the team charter.
Younger players who came to town in advance of next week’s rookie tournament will also hop on the jet to New England.
The rookie tournament, which was to be held on Florida’s west coast in Estero, was canceled on Wednesday.
Keith Yandle, who is from the Boston area, secured his own flight to Massachusetts and will meet his teammates there and coordinate workouts and such.
“We had some of our younger players come in — a few of which are from Europe — and basically get stranded here with the storm coming,” Caldwell said. “For many of them, this would be the first hurricane for them. Guys are very thankful to [owner Vinnie Viola] for doing this. They are all reaching out.”
The Panthers were the team hardest hit by the last big hurricane to hit South Florida in 2005 when Wilma struck.
Although the team itself was on a road trip when Wilma came in from the west and hammered Broward County, the Panthers suffered major damage to their training facility in Coral Springs as well to their arena in Sunrise.
The Panthers have already canceled all youth hockey events at the IceDen in Coral Springs as well have closed up shop at BB&T Center.
The arena, as it has in the past, will serve as a staging area for emergency equipment.
As for Caldwell, he and a few members of his staff will be on site during the storm in case anything happens.
“I think the arena will make for a pretty good shelter,” Caldwell said. “If anything were to go wrong, I think it’s good we’ll be close and ready to react. We have told Broward County we’re all in for them. Anything they need from us, they’ve got it.”