CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) — The first day of Florida Panthers training camp is always roughly the same: Plenty of players on the ice, plenty of hope for the new season, a bit of organized chaos.
Day 1, this year, was different.
This time, Bill Torrey wasn’t there.
The Panthers opened camp Friday, and in general manager Dale Tallon’s mind, there was a void – off the ice. Torrey, the Panthers’ president in their inaugural season 25 years ago and part of the team’s fabric ever since, died in May at the age of 83. He worked for the team up until his death and was still considered an advisor to everyone in the organization, Tallon in particular.
”He’s here every day in my mind,” Tallon said. ”I’m not getting as many butt dials on the phone, but every day, I miss him. He’s the reason I’m here, basically. He brought me here. He was like a father to me. I miss him, every day.”
Torrey was the first person that the Panthers ever honored with a retired number – 93, to commemorate 1993, the year Florida took the ice for the first time.
Torrey – or Mr. Torrey, as most Panthers employees still refer to him as – spent more than a half-century in the NHL. He was the first person hired by the New York Islanders in 1972, and wound up leading that franchise to four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 until 1983.
When the Islanders play at Florida on Nov. 10, the teams will honor Torrey’s memory.
”It really hit me when we had our first Board of Governors meeting this summer,” Panthers President and CEO Matthew Caldwell said. ”You send in an attendance sheet and it was the first one we’ve ever done without sending in Bill Torrey’s name. He never missed one. He was such a great representative of the team.”
Teams sit in alphabetical order at the Board of Governors sessions; the Panthers are between the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings. Caldwell said Torrey’s absence was noted not just by the Panthers’ group this offseason, but by those representing the Oilers and Kings as well.
”All of a sudden, this icon’s not sitting there at the table,” Caldwell said. ”That was really tough, tough for the whole franchise. … It was just troubling to go through that, but doesn’t compare to what I’m sure his family is going through.”
Florida reached the Stanley Cup final in 1996 under Torrey, falling to Colorado. Earlier that season, Torrey went into the Hall of Fame as a builder who specialized in taking expansion teams and turning them into quick winners.
The Panthers never won a Cup in Torrey’s lifetime. But Tallon believes the team is on the brink of contending, and decisions Torrey helped make are part of the reason why the club believes they’re on the cusp of turning the corner.
”He’s still there. He’s always there for me,” Tallon said. ”He was the motivating factor for a lot of the stuff that we’ve done here. We can follow in his footsteps, all of us. His class, his passion, he was just a wonderful guy.”
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