The Florida Panthers’ Aaron Ekblad is more than just a hockey player.
As of Tuesday night, he can officially say he is a cover model.
Ahead of the Panthers’ home opener of their 25th anniversary season on Thursday, the team unveiled a 120-plus page commemorative magazine that connects the start of the franchise with the modern-day team at an event at the Boatyard in Fort Lauderdale with a few hundred in attendance. Ekblad, the Panthers’ rising star defenseman, served as the cover man for the team hoping to make it back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after last season’s second-half surge came up just short.
“It’s different for sure,” Ekblad said. “It’s something out of my comfort zone a little bit. It’s fun, but my focus is on hockey.”
Added fellow defenseman Keith Yandle: “I mean, he’s a handsome dude. He’s my partner. He’s a good looking guy. He’s the right candidate.”
The Panthers partnered with Whitehaus Media Group to create the magazine and took the players out of their comfort zone at times to bring out the human-side of the athletes.
The cover features Ekblad at a horse ranch in Davie. The group also went deep-sea fishing with Nick Bjugstad and rode bikes in Boca Raton with Aleksander Barkov, among others.
“We felt the players needed to be highlighted more,” said Carlos Suarez, Whitehaus Media Group’s co-founder and publisher who was wearing a Panthers jersey from the 1996 season at the event and said his hockey roots trace back to the early 1980s. “We wanted to be more focused on the players. They’re running 100 miles per hour on the ice, getting constantly yanked out, pulled back in, yanked out, pulled back in. They’re wearing masks, shields and pads. I wanted to maybe familiarize the public and the fans with them a little bit better. I think we accomplished that.”
Fans will have a chance to familiarize themselves with the Panthers on the ice in South Florida beginning Thursday when the Panthers host their home opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the BB&T Center. The puck is set to drop at 7 p.m.