Later this month, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas hockey varsity team will make its way to Minnesota to compete for a national championship.
But before it has that chance, the National Hockey League gave the more than 30 aspiring hockey players another trophy on Monday, one many hockey players only dream of holding: the Stanley Cup.
“I wasn’t expecting anything like that,” senior captain Matthew Hauptman said. “I was expecting to see maybe Stanley the Panther, not the cup.”
The surprise came minutes after the varsity and junior varsity teams finished practicing at the BB&T Center while the Panthers made their way to Tampa Bay for their Tuesday night game against the Lightning. It was also a nice tribute for a team that has gone through a wave of emotions over the past three weeks.
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On Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, 14 of their classmates and three faculty members were killed in a mass shooting at their high school. Eleven days later, the varsity team won the state championship in the Statewide Amateur Hockey of Florida league.
As they sat in the locker room before the championship game, the team noticed they had 17 players who were going to be active for the game. After winning the tournament, the team made its way back to their high school and placed a medal on each victim’s makeshift memorial.
“That just showed we won for them,” team member Joey Zenobi said.
The team has also received an outpouring of support from their hometown Panthers.
On Feb. 22, eight days after the shooting, goalkeeper Roberto Luongo gave an emotional and inspired speech to the crowd before their first game back on home ice. The team is wearing MSD patches on the right shoulder of their jerseys for the remainder of the season, as well.
“It’s been incredible,” Hauptman said. “Knowing that there’s a group of boys in there that have your back is just great.”
The Panthers have been playing inspirational hockey ever since and are now in the mix for a playoff. They swept their six-game homestand, outscoring opponents 23-13 in that span. The Stoneman Douglas team was on hand for the final game of that stretch, a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.
But on Monday, the inside of the BB&T Center looked as if it was Stoneman Douglas’ home rink. The scoreboard overhead had the team’s mascot, an Eagle. The banners in the arena repeated four words: Stoneman Douglas state champions.
And then out came the trophy.
“Their jaws dropped,” said Howie Borrow, one of the five Keepers of the Cup who works with the NHL Hall of Fame. “There was kind of a bit of disbelief. Really a thrilling moment for them to see it.”