Before the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning joined the National Hockey League in the early 1990s, ice hockey in Florida had been basically limited to minor league teams.
Hockey fever soon caught on in Florida, including the Florida Panhandle. Soon, even the youth caught the hockey bug and leagues began to spread throughout the state. From 1998-99, the number of youth in active ice hockey leagues in Florida was a mere 5,606. Some 10 years later, that number doubled.
Following the 1995-96 season, the Nashville Knights of the East Coast Hockey League moved their minor league ice hockey franchise to Pensacola and became the Pensacola Ice Pilots. Thereafter, area youth became enamored with ice hockey and a junior ice league was formed.
Ice hockey in Florida? Well, it is not that farfetched when one considers the fact that Northwest Florida has thousands upon thousands of military families who have come from cold-weather states, where ice hockey is very popular.
For more on this story, see the Nov. 3 issue of Navarre Press or subscribe online.