I'll begin by saying that I'm not writing this with an eye toward journalistic integrity. I'm not focusing on being particularly unbiased, and I'm certainly not happy to be writing this. Instead I write this article with my heart in my throat.
I'm a native Floridian; I was born here. I live here. And when I die, I want my ashes scattered over the Atlantic off the Florida coast. I'm also a die-hard hockey fan. I've lived my entire life in the land of sand and beaches and bikinis yet I've loved nothing more in this world than ice hockey.
Now in case any of you were wondering, I'm a Florida Panthers fan. I bleed navy, red, and yellow and the Panthers run to the cup in 1996 ignited in me a passion that has never died, a love for this game bigger than me.
I've always felt that the snowbirds, the people from the north who move to Florida, had a sort of implicit dislike of us Floridians.
It's not something that anyone could see unless they were born and raised here. It's the strange look you get from a girl at a bar when you tell her you've lived in Florida your whole life.
It's the way that a Marlins game is empty until the Red Sox, or the Yankees, or the Mets come to town. It's always seemed the rest of the world only cares when Florida has trouble helping to elect a President.
Now I feel like there is more camaraderie than rivalry. Red Sox fans suffered for 86 years until they finally got that World Series they so rightfully deserved, Mets fans will forever be tied to the whipping post.
Now it seems like my beloved Panthers will always be the hockey lover's favorite punchline.
I've watched this team faithfully for years, and in the last eight it's been near torture but I will watch, I will not turn away. This team that I whole-heartedly love and cheer for just has to get it together.
Every year since 2001, it's been a miserable performance early in the season followed by making a near miraculous turn around late in the year to try and make an incredible run to the playoffs, except that the playoffs part never happens.
I still firmly believe that this is our year, there is no question and there cannot be. I still believe in this team. Despite all evidence to the contrary, despite the glaring losses.
I still believe, I still care and perhaps that is my curse. Perhaps that is the curse of Florida sports. Certainly it can't have slipped past everyone that the Florida Marlins have a perfect winning percentage when they make it to the big show.
Apparently it's entirely slipped past all of Miami-Dade county who for some reason just can't get that stadium built.
Apparently it slips by every fan of the NHL that the Panthers won the Prince of Wales Trophy in their third year of competition every time some arm-chair commissioner calls for league retraction.
I believe in the Florida Panthers, I will be there for every agonizing minute up until they finally bring home that championship hardware.
I'll be there.