Loser wears all: City mayors put jerseys on the line ahead of Stanley Cup clash

“It goes pretty much like this: when the Panthers win, I’ll send Mayor Sohi a jersey, and he’s going to probably wear it at one of the public functions to show his connection to South Florida. And if the Oilers win, then I will wear an Oilers jersey”

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On the eve of the beginning of the Stanley Cup Final, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and Sunrise, Fla., Mayor Michael J. Ryan have made a friendly wager for the NHL championship.

“It goes pretty much like this: when the Panthers win, I’ll send Mayor Sohi a jersey, and he’s going to probably wear it at one of the public functions to show his connection to South Florida. And if the Oilers win, then I will wear an Oilers jersey,” said Sunrise’s Ryan.

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As the opening game of the Stanley Cup Final looms, the players are ready, the fans are ready, and now even the politicians are ready. With the Edmonton Oilers headed more than 4,800 kilometres south for the first two games against the Florida Panthers, the series has attracted the attention of hockey lovers north and south of the border. With the bet in place between the two mayors, pride is on the line for both, with a Cup-hungry Edmonton fan base colliding with a unified, young, South Florida fan base.

Though the Oilers mightn’t be Canada’s team to fans across the country, they’re certainly Edmonton’s team and Sohi expressed his pride in them, but not just for the performance on the ice.

“For me it’d be how involved they are in the community,” said Sohi.

While the Oilers have shown their worth on ice, Sohi highlighted the community work that the team does to help the city. Whether it’s supporting kids, supporting cancer survivors, or the work they do with the community foundation, Sohi said it all helps.

“It is so phenomenal that they are so connected to the community and I find that so refreshing,” he said.

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While the hockey world, and indeed Canadian fans, have sometimes dismissed Florida’s hockey teams and their fans, south Florida mayors maintain the Panthers have had a bigger effect than some might think.

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Unlike the Oilers, the Panthers in the south Florida region are increasing the presence of the entire sport. Mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Dean Trantalis, noted that one example of their commitment to growing the game in the region was the team’s partnership with the city to build the Baptist Health IcePlex where the team trains and the community comes together.

“It shows the team’s commitment to Fort Lauderdale, to south Florida, and to the people that live here,” said Trantalis.

Although Fort Lauderdale and Sunrise are separate municipalities, the two cities are within a half-hour’s drive from each other. As such, they share in the benefits of the Panthers.

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Ryan said the team’s growth has had a noticeable impact on his community. As a supporter of the Panthers since the ’90s, Ryan said he remembered the atmosphere in Miami when the team was there, and is delighted that south Floridians are getting in on the hype.

“There’s nothing more exhilarating than hearing a south Florida fan say they are new to hockey and they’ve fallen in love with the sport because they had the opportunity to come and watch it in the arena.”

fort lauderdale mayor dean trentalis
Mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Dean Trentalis, donning a Florida Panthers jersey at the Baptist Health IcePlex ahead of the Stanley Cup finals. Photo by Supplied Photo /City of Fort Lauderdale

Both Florida mayors reported increased sightings of Panthers gear out in public, showing increased uptake of the sport. While spotting panthers gear is one thing, it pales in comparison to the representation at the arena.

Though the Panthers might not sell out their games during the regular season, the Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise has packed its seats. And Edmonton fans may want to cover their ears, but with a capacity of 19,250, that’s a little over 600 people more per game than Rogers Place

So the Oilers might not have half a state behind them, and they aren’t establishing hockey in the tropics, but they’ve lit a fire under the Edmonton economy and injected a level of excitement not seen for nearly two decades.

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“It is a huge boost for economic growth and development and the city gets highlighted throughout North America when people are watching games. So it’s good for tourism and promotion of the city as well,” said Sohi.

Sohi said he’s enjoyed the energy surrounding the Oilers at the various watch parties throughout the city, and that the effects have helped the recovery for some who are still shaking off the blues of the pandemic.

mayor of sunrise michael j ryan
Mayor of Sunrise, Michael J. Ryan poses in front of the Florida Panthers home arena, Amerant Bank Arena with the Panthers’ mascot, Stanley C. Panther. Photo by Supplied Photo /City of Sunrise

There’s no shortage of motivation for the teams but with the (hockey) gauntlet thrown down between the mayors, they’ll be pulling even more for their respective squads.

“I know we’re going to win this year so I’m excited to see what the mayor of Edmonton is going to do once we win,” said Trantalis, who had to take a stroll on the beach in a Las Vegas Golden Knights jersey when Florida lost last year.

“I am confident we’re going to win,” said Sohi, adding, “We’re going to bring the cup home.”

“I don’t know that I’ll walk on the beach but I’ll walk alongside the Everglades if I have to wear that jersey. And because it’s so hot, I gotta tell you, I need the cats to win,” said Ryan.

The Floridians predicted a Panthers win in five.

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