The Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Governor of Florida Rick Scott have announced the inception of the Governor’s Cup, an annual competition between the two Florida NHL clubs. The tournament was created with the goal of growing the sport of hockey in Florida, while supporting both teams’ youth hockey programs. After the last matchup of the season, the winning team will be awarded the Governor’s Cup and both teams will make a contribution to their opponent’s youth program.

Under the new alignment, the division rivals will only face each other for four games as opposed to the six games previously played between intra-divisional teams. In this inaugural season of the Governor’s Cup, the schedule will be as follows:
Thursday, Oct. 10, Panthers at Lightning, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 27, Lightning at Panthers, 5 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 23, Lightning at Panthers, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 13, Panthers at Lightning, 7:30 p.m.

The first game of the series took place last night at Tampa’s home opener where the Lightning won by a commanding score of 7-2. In the race for the Governor’s Cup the Tampa Bay Lightning now hold two points. The point system for the Cup works much like points in the NHL; two points are awarded for a win, one point for an overtime or shootout loss, and no points are earned for a loss in regulation. Should a tie occur, the winner of the Cup will be determined by goal differential.

While the Lightning franchise has had more success than that of the Panthers, Florida dominates the series record between them. It should be interesting to see if this holds true with the added motivation of the Governor’s Cup.

Governor Scott described the creation of the tournament as “Great news for Florida hockey.” He further stated, “This competition is an excellent way to highlight the opportunities that Floridians, and our visitors, have to enjoy all of the wonderful activities that our state has to offer.”

Both teams expressed their excitement to be working with each other and alongside Governor Scott towards the common goal of growing hockey in Florida, adding a new level of passion for each fan base, and enriching the youth programs.

As a Florida hockey fan who has wished to see the sport thrive here for a very long time, I am personally hoping the series will accomplish what it aims to do and grow the popularity of hockey within the state. Currently, the animosity between Florida and Tampa is minimal and it remains to be seen whether or not the Governor’s Cup will ignite a spark between them. Some fans will probably view the tournament as a bit gimmicky (there will be an official logo and coverage from television to radio to social media and more), but the real winners of an initiative like this will be the children with big hockey dreams.

I have worked with the Panthers youth hockey program here. From mite to midget, these kids have such a love for the sport, you would not believe they walk out of the rink into 90 degree weather. Where other children grow up with the chance to play on ponds in their backyards and hockey is a way of life, Florida youth players have to discover the sport in a completely different environment. I think in the end it means the players who stick with it have a devotion to the game stronger than most would give them credit for. It would be impossible to watch the youth program here and not see a cultivation of love for hockey.

The youth leagues may be the very best place of all to fuel a passion for this incredible sport here in Florida. And I sincerely hope to see that passion grow.

Born in the “non-traditional” hockey market of South Florida, Elizabeth (Beth) quickly grew to love the sport at a very young age after her Buffalo-bred family introduced her to the Sabres. High school friends who didn’t care about hockey couldn't understand her withdrawals during the 2004-05 lockout, but college would bring a hockey loving boyfriend (and best friend) to whom she could finally relate. A South Florida native himself, and an avid Florida Panthers fan, he got her into the home team. Together they work for their college hockey club (the FAU Owls), broadcasting games. Beth is a huge USA Hockey fan and hopes to see them win Olympic gold in her lifetime. Between her 2 favorite NHL teams, her college squad, and USA Hockey, it's hard to tell which team she loves most, but she is passionate about them all.

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