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No Canadians Allowed In Sunrise

SUNRISE, FLORIDA - APRIL 10: Eetu Luostarinen #27 of the Florida Panthers tangles with Mark Giordano #55 of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the FLA Live Arena on April 10, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

There are many ways to traverse a banana creme pie of a weekend, but Monday comes and slaps you back to the reality that only a practiced miserablist can truly absorb. The wonderment of Stephen Curry becoming the best version of Russell Westbrook … the Seattle Kraken, alive for barely twice as long as the Colorado Avalanche have been defending Stanley Cup champions, eliminating said Avs with classic old-time strangulation hockey … Liverpool and Tottenham proving why both teams can do anything they wish while rarely doing them well enough to impress anyone … all of them take a back seat to the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers performed the amazing though not unprecedented trick of eliminating the best team in their sport from the playoffs, in overtime, in Game 7, on the other guy's ice, after tying a game in the final minute that they had seemingly lost. Yes, the ultramodest eight-seed beat the Boston Bruins and their best record in the sport's history, 4-3, thus making this one of the greatest upsets in North American sports history. The nondescript Panthers, who barely snuck into the playoffs at all, showed why the Stanley Cup playoffs offer more pure jaw-slackening surprises than any other sport.

And then they woke up Monday morning and did this:

So weak. So lame. So unnecessary. And yet so on-brand in Florida, where DeSantis State is trying to primp up the governor's unimpressive record by picking a fight with Walt Disney. It's hard to maintain the likability factor the Panthers just spent two weeks creating out of nothing when they lurch from tormenting the Bruins to tormenting Colin from Mississauga.

The number of ways this is stupid can barely be adequately quantified, but let's give it a go. One, crowd noise doesn't really invigorate the team one way or another, as they have sold out fewer than 40 of 524 home games since 2010. Indeed, they didn't even sell out Game 6 of the Bruins series, so it isn't as if the team swoops in a tide of fan momentum. They come to the rink, they work hard, they skate their wing and hope that Sergei Bobrovsky is Good Bob rather than Bad Bob. Sunday, he was Good Bob, and the players in front of him played the vastly superior Bruins to a standstill, but that's hockey analysis you don't need this soon after your third cafecito.

The truth is, the Panthers have not historically done enough to seize their share of the South Florida market. They've made the playoffs only eight times in 30 years, and this is the third time in those eight that they escaped immediate elimination. The crowds they've gotten are the ones they've earned, and nobody has ever tried to make the case that they could do better if they could disappoint more people in the building.

Two, Maple Leaf fans do not "take over" buildings outside of Ottawa. Game 3 in Sunrise will be this weekend, and Torontonians do not drop everything to get all tropical on a few days’ notice. They'll watch on television for Chris Cuthbert to explain it to them, as their god intended. Toronto has as hilarious a record for postseason underachievement as Florida's—four times out of the first round in those same 30 years, but their fans take this stuff far more seriously. Theirs is a daily pressure which the Panthers have never faced.

But three, and this is the most salient point, fan bases don't win hockey games, or playoff series, or sporting events in general. That is the players' sole duty, and nobody else can do it for them. That is a myth ginned up to move money from your pocket to theirs. Besides, home ice advantage this year is a lie worthy of DeSantis' best advisers. Home teams are 18-31 so far, and 2-10 in overtime games. If home crowds were a real thing, these numbers would be reversed. If home crowds were a real thing, the Bruins would have beaten the Panthers in three. This is turning down potential customers and worse, turning down potential customers who, if they are willing to travel 1,900 miles, are going to toss money around like it was, well, Canadian money. Florida was built on bilking tourists, and suddenly tourists scare them? It's a wonder we let them remain a state at all.

Restricting tickets sales to keep out outlander riffraff isn't unheard of; it's what happens when teams like the San Francisco 49ers flood a road game because they disdain money so much that they want to fill SoFi Stadium with themselves rather than Rams fans. But the 49ers own the Rams because they’ve had the better teams, not the better fans. If you've ever eaten with 49ers fans, you'll know why you prefer Cardinals fans. They are fewer, and have far less reason to speak, and there is no dining companion quite as good as that.

But keeping out Canadians is, well, beneath the Panthers. They engaged in this silliness for one reason and one reason only: to make the ticketing people work overtime for no good reason. They've never been asked to chase people away before this—that has been an effortless and natural function of the organization almost since it was created—so they're probably not very good at it anyway. This is unbecoming low-grade busywork, and shortchanges the biggest advantage the Panthers have over the Leafs: that everyone outside of Ontario already wants them to win. The Panthers can do this. They just need a little peace and quiet.

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