Two Florida Panthers prospects prove South Florida can be recruiting hotbed

07/12/2014 12:00 AM

07/12/2014 12:04 AM

Dale Tallon has traveled the world looking for hockey talent.

Some of it may just be in his own area code.

On Friday, the Panthers closed their development camp with a scrimmage that featured goals scored by a pair of kids who learned the game in the rinks of Broward County.

“Hockey is all over the place,” Tallon said of Broward products Colin Suellentrop and Cody Payne. Both were free agent invites to the week-long camp.

“Boys are coming out of Florida, Texas and California. You have to recruit everywhere. And it’s good to see. These are good players. They want to come here and want to play here. Hockey is good here and more and more players are coming out of South Florida.”

Payne, who started playing hockey at the Pines Ice Arena, scored the first goal of the second period Friday.

Not long afterward, Suellentrop – who played youth hockey on the same ice sheet in Coral Springs at the Panthers’ training facility that the scrimmage was held on – scored as well.

“It was a good week and I learned a lot out there,” said Suellentrop, who is from Plantation. “It’s too soon to tell what’s going to happen with the Panthers so we’ll see. I felt good in the scrimmage. I can only hope for the best.”

As hockey players from California and Texas begin finding their way to the NHL, Florida may not be far behind. When the NHL began expanding into the Sunshine State in 1992 with the Tampa Bay Lightning, ice rinks started popping up in unconventional spots.

Today, Broward County is home to three rinks in Pembroke Pines, Coral Springs and Lighthouse Point. In Miami-Dade, Kendall Ice Arena has a strong youth program as well.

For Payne and Suellentrop, the novelty of being hockey players from Florida has worn off. Both have played major-junior hockey in Canada the past few years and have heard all the jokes.

“I left here at 14 and didn’t know anyone so it was tough,” said Suellentrop, who moved to the Detroit area before playing in Canada. “But being back has been awesome.”

Both players would like a chance to play for an NHL team and hope the hometown team gives them a shot.

Although both players were drafted (Suellentrop in the fourth round by Philadelphia and Payne in the fifth round by Boston) neither signed a contract.

Payne could return to juniors next season as an overage player; Suellentrop has the option to play collegiately in New Brunswick next season. They would rather get invitations to Florida’s training camp, however, and begin their professional careers.

“If I work hard, someone is going to notice and a contract should be in the works,” said Payne, who grew up in Weston. “I want to play pro hockey and I think I’m ready. But getting that opportunity isn’t up to me. All I can do is work my hardest.”

NEWS, NOTES

Center Aleksander Barkov took the final two days of development camp off with Tallon saying Thursday that the Panthers just want him 100 percent for training camp.

Barkov, 18, missed the final two months of last season after re-injurying his knee at the Winter Olympics. On Monday, Barkov said his injury continues to heal.

“He has nothing to prove to me,” Tallon said. “We brought him in just to look at him, evaluate him. He looks good.”

•  Center Kyle Rau won’t be joining the Panthers organization this year as he has decided to return to Minnesota for his senior year.

Defenseman Michael Matheson, Florida’s first-round pick in 2012, is also returning to school for at least one more year. Matheson has been named a captain at Boston College.

“I want to get my education and we’re going to have a good team next year so that played a part,” said Rau, a captain and All-American last season.

“People may say I’m nuts for not coming to the [Panthers] now, but I look forward to possibly signing here a year from now.”

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