Stoneman Douglas hockey team now aiming for national title

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The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School hockey team begin their quest for a national title on Friday afternoon at the USA Hockey High School Nationals in Plymouth, Minnesota.

In February, 11 days after a gunman killed 17 and injured 14 others on the Parkland, Florida campus, the team went out and won the Statewide Amateur Hockey of Florida High School State Championship tournament, earning their place at nationals.

The Eagles get started Friday afternoon where they’ll play three round-robin games against teams from Colorado, Minnesota and Indiana, with the top two from their division advancing to the quarterfinals.

The team flew to Plymouth in style, thanks to the Florida Panthers, who arranged for a charter flight to take them to Minnesota. It was another gesture from the NHL club who earlier this month invited the Eagles to practice at BB&T Center and spend some time with the players in the locker room. They also got to hang out with the Stanley Cup.

The hockey community rallied around the Stoneman Douglas kids in the wake of the tragedy. In the Panthers’ first home game after the Feb. 14 shooting, goaltender Roberto Luongo, who has children in the Parkland school system, delivered an emotional pre-game speech to the crowd. A few days later, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who attended the school for two years, met with the team after a game. Craig Anderson, a Parkland resident, invited them to be his guests last week when the Ottawa Senators were in town.

In the days following the shooting, the Stoneman Douglas players discussed whether they should continue their season. They met and decided to keep playing to honor of the fallen 17.

“I don’t think anyone had in mind that they didn’t want to go,” said freshman Adam Hauptman via Red Line Editorial. “Every kid felt pretty much the same. It was either going to be that everyone said yes or no. Everyone wanted to get out and bring something back to celebrate with.”

Before they played in the state title game last month, there was a moment when the players realized there were 17 of them on the roster. And when they won the championship, they decided to take their medals back to Stoneman Douglas High School and place them around each of the 17 memorials.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Win or lose this weekend, the Stoneman Douglas team has made their community proud and helped in a healing process that will go on for some time.

“That tournament wasn’t for us, it was all for them,” said senior forward Joey Zenobi in a TSN Original released this week. “That’s what we had to play for — for our school, for our community, for the victims, for the families, for everyone.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.