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October 26, 2010
On The Beat
Panthers Honor Bill Torrey

by John Perrotto

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The Panthers have retired a number for the first time in their 17-year history, putting aside No. 93 forever. While the Panthers' mascot is the only person or thing to wear No. 93, it was retired in honor of Bill Torrey, the team's first president when the Panthers first took the ice in 1993 and the current alternate governor.

Torrey became the first person to have a commemorative banner raised in the rafters of the BankAtlantic Center. The other banners celebrate the 1993-94 inaugural season, the 1996 Eastern Conference championship, the 2001 NHL Draft and the 2003 All-Star Game.

Torrey was wooed by businessman H. Wayne Huizenga in 1992. At the time, Huizenga owned the NFL's Dolphins and had landed MLB's expansion Marlins. He also wanted an NHL expansion team and knew Torrey was planning to make West Palm Beach his home after being forced out by the Islanders that year. Torrey couldn't resist the idea of joining a third expansion franchise after overseeing start-up operations with the California Golden Seals and Islanders.

"I was here eight or nine days when I got a call from Wayne inviting me down to a football game," Torrey remembered. "We sat in the box and he told me he was thinking of bringing hockey down here. My first reaction was 'are you kidding? He said get a little golf in and then we're getting to work."

Torrey and then-general manager Bobby Clarke selected a number of mainstays in the 1993 expansion draft, starting with goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck, the first overall pick. Following Vanbiesbrouck were such players as Paul Laus, Gord Murphy, Tom Fitzgerald, Scott Mellanby, Brian Skrudland, Mike Hough, Dave Lowry and Bill Lindsay. Murphy is currently an assistant coach for the Panthers while Skrudland oversees player development and Lindsey serves as their television analyst.

"Wayne wanted to surround himself with good people and he went to the top of the chain in hockey by bringing in Bill Torrey," Vanbiesbrouck, said. "Hockey and Florida didn't match up. He did an unbelievable job building a hockey environment for hockey people where there weren't a lot of hockey roots. Bill and the rest of the people there accomplished a lot in a short period of time. He's good for the game."

Special guests for the pre-game ceremony included Huizenga, former broadcaster Jiggs McDonald and Hall of Famers Emile Francis, Bob Pulford, Harry Sindin, Lou Nanne and Jim Gregory. The Panthers presented Torrey with a vacation at a golf resort in Oregon and a three-year lease on a Lexus. They will also place a bronze plaque in their Den of Honor.

"My family has been my blessing," Torrey said. "They've supported me and gave me the inspiration to try and succeed in every endeavor. I bow my head to them."

Bettman Reaches Out To Fan

Canucks forward Rick Rypien has incurred the longest suspension of the young season, getting six games for grabbing a fan in Minnesota last Tuesday night. It was fewer games than expected and the lighter penalty likely came because he has no prior offenses. Those close to Rypien insist his actions were out of character.

"Rick made a mistake, and those are the consequences," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "Anybody who would know Rick the person, he is a real quality individual that is a real honest person that wants to become the best player he can become. It hasn't been easy on him, but in our mind he's got the full support of myself, my coaching staff, his teammates and the organization, and we're going to continue to support him."

The fan Rypien had the altercation with, 28-year-old James Engquist, is seeking legal representation and considering whether having his sweater grabbed and pulled is a case of assault. There was no word on whether a possible lawsuit would target Rypien, or also name the Canucks and possibly the NHL and security in Minnesota. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman called Engquist and offered dinner and tickets to a future game.

"He said, 'Sorry about the events, and players should never ever put their hands on a fan,'" Engquist told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "I thought that was very nice of him. I mean, what do you say at that point? You're talking to the commissioner of the NHL. I thought it was really respectful for him to give me a call."

Yet Engquist believes Bettman should have given Rypien a stiffer penalty. "This is Mr. Rypien's career, this is his job, he's being paid to represent the NHL, and they feel (taking) a two-week break off without pay and come back to work is satisfactory," Engquist said. "But as far as the real world goes, that person would be held accountable as far as the law and just as a company in general, that person would probably be fired."

Rypien tried to engage the Wild's Brad Staubitz in the second period after bloodying him in a first-period fight but the linesman interceded. Rypien sucker punched Staubitz and appeared to push the official as he was being escorted off the ice. On the way back to the dressing room to serve the 10-minute misconduct penalty, Rypien reached up and grabbed Engquist, who appeared to be taunting him.

"The word unexpected is probably the best adjective I can have," Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said. "We didn't anticipate any event like that from a player of Rick's stature and the person he is. There were events that led up to it. We're going to support him. He's a valuable member of our team. He's a great character guy. His teammates love him. This was something which was totally out of character, in my opinion."

Rough Road For Carolina

The Hurricanes will finally play their home opener Wednesday night when they face the Capitals at the RBC Center. Thus, will end one of the strangest odysseys an NHL team has ever faced.

The Hurricanes opened their season with back-to-back games against the Wild on October 7 and 8 in Helsinki, Finland after playing an exhibition game on October 4 in Russia against SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinetal Hockey League as part of the NHL Premier Challenge. The Hurricanes returned home to Raleigh for a few days of practice then embarked on a five-game road trip to face the Senators, Canucks, Sharks, Kings and Coyotes. In all, the Hurricanes have traveled over 15,000 miles to play their first seven games.

"It's pretty ridiculous," the Hurricanes' Joe Corvo said. "Whatever you got to do to make money, I guess."

Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice certainly realizes the early-season schedule hasn't been favorable, particularly a four-game western swing after the trip to Europe. However, he tried to look on the bright side as his team got through the road trip with a 4-3 record.

"You play the cards you're dealt and it gave us a chance to do some team building and bonding, which can never be a bad thing," Maurice said.

Ownership Turmoil Good For Dallas?

Perhaps ownership turmoil is a good thing. Last season, the Coyotes reached the playoffs despite declaring bankruptcy. This season, the Stars are off to a 5-2 start even though owner Tom Hicks is trying to sell the team.

"We kind of feel we have a lot of talent here," center Brad Richards said. "Maybe because of where we play and with the ownership problems, no one understands that. But we're confident, young and enthusiastic. We want to prove we can be a good team in this league."

They have three productive lines, and goalie Kari Lehtonen is off to an outstanding start. The top line of Richards centering for James Neal and Loui Eriksson has been particularly strong. Furthermore, captain Brenden Morrow is healthy again after an offseason in 2009-10 while he completed his recovery from knee surgery.

John Perrotto is an author of Puck Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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