The blue sweatshirt was brought out of the equipment room Tuesday morning, folded up and handed to the team president for safekeeping.
Spacey In Space, the Florida Panthers’ hoodie turned phenomenon, was officially retired now that the season has ended.
Matt Caldwell, the president and CEO of the Panthers, took ownership of the sweatshirt from equipment manager Chris Scoppetto as the team held its exit meetings and cleaned out their lockers at BB&T Center on Tuesday.
Caldwell plans on having the sweatshirt framed and displayed in the arena to honor Florida’s best regular season (47 wins, 103 points) in its history.
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“This deserves to be put up somewhere,” Caldwell said.
Officially, defenseman Alex Petrovic was the final recipient of the prize which went to the MVP of a Florida victory as he scored the game-winner in the third period of the Panthers’ 2-1 win in Brooklyn in Game 4 of their opening round series with the New York Islanders.
The Panthers went on to lose the next two games in the best-of-7 series in double overtime as the Islanders move on to face the Lightning and Florida’s season ends.
Goalie Roberto Luongo got the sweatshirt a record five times since it made its debut on Sasha Barkov after he scored twice in a victory over Montreal on Dec. 29.
After winning Game 2 in Sunrise, Luongo begged to cut his postgame comments to the media short “because I’m sweating to death in this thing.”
Last year, the team was given a West Point cadet jacket during a visit to the U.S. Military Academy for a team-building session. That gray jacket was handed out after victories during the 2014-15 season.
Next year, the team hopes to find something different.
It’s doubtful the replacement will be as popular.
“You can’t force what it may be,” said Shawn Thornton, who is thought to have introduced the sweatshirt to the team.
“Last year, it just so happened a cadet had a spare jacket and he was showing me and a couple other players his bunk. He said ‘you want this thing?’ and we said sure.
“It has to be fluid, has to just come to you. And you never know where it will be.”
This year it was Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey who became a self-described “good luck charm” for the Panthers ever since meeting members of the team at their rookie dinner in New York back in December.
Fresh off a loss at Boston, the Panthers — out of a playoff position at the time — hung out with Spacey and then quickly reversed their fortunes.
The next game, Florida beat those same Islanders in Brooklyn and went on a five-game winning streak.
A few weeks later, in the midst of what would be a franchise-record 12-game winning streak, the team started handing out the blue sweatshirt with the odd image Spacey’s head floating in space following wins.
Barkov was the first to get it and told a Miami Herald reporter “I have no idea what it means” as he posed for a picture wearing it.
That photo went viral on Twitter with Spacey responding to it the following day. “Only I know what Spacey in Space means,” the actor wrote.
Spacey would later get his own sweatshirt on the set of NBC’s Today as he did publicity for the new season of his Netflix hit “House of Cards.”
Last month, the craze reached its climax when Spacey flew from Atlanta where he was filming a movie to attend what would be a 5-3 loss to Detroit in Sunrise.
Although Spacey met with the team in the locker room afterward, he wasn’t able to hand out the sweatshirt with his face on it because the team had lost.
“We said hello to him, but it wasn’t as fun as if we had won,’’ Nick Bjugstad said afterward.
“We were down a little bit but we appreciate him coming down, supporting the team. It was cool seeing him on the JumboTron. The fans really loved it.’’
Spacey’s arrival at the arena was shrouded in secrecy as he walked in a back, VIP entrance with a paper mask — handed out to fans at the door — of his face on it covering his face.
Spacey kept the mask over his face until he found a spot in the crowd during the second period. As the public address announcer urged fans to show their ‘Spacey Faceys’ as cameras panned the crowd, Spacey stood up and revealed himself to a loud roar from the franchise-record crowd of 20,817.
“It took on a life of its own,” Thornton said. “I thought it was hilarious, especially when Spacey himself jumped on board and dove right in with it. I didn’t play that game so I sat in the suite with him. It was cool to pick his brain a little, see how enthusiastic he was about it the whole thing.”
Spacey, of course, was wearing the famous sweatshirt the team has been selling for $40 with money benefiting foundations run by both Spacey and the team.
“We raised a little bit of money,” Thornton said, “which is cool, too.”
Despite the season ending, the players remained tight-lipped about how it came about.
Vincent Trocheck said the sweatshirt’s secrecy was a point of pride within the team as players didn’t want to be the one who leaked out its meaning.
“Just having something that only we could share is good for the team, makes us a little tighter,’’ Trocheck said. “You don’t want to be the guy telling your girlfriend or wife the meaning of it and that getting out. Then you’re the guy who told. Nobody in this locker room told anyone. That’s awesome.”
Erik Gudbranson and Thornton, thought to be the pair originally behind the sweatshirt, laughed off questions about it Tuesday but remained mum -- as they have been since late December.
“It’s not going to happen, not from me for sure,’’ Gudbranson said when asked to spill some secrets.
“It’s a pretty amazing story, actually, but it shows how tight a group we are. There’s a lot of flair with this team.”
Said Thornton: “It was huge. I don’t know if you’ll get the story, I hope it remains a mystery.”