Although the Florida Panthers made few free agency moves on July 5th, it would turn out to be one of the most historic days in recent memory for the franchise. There had been speculation whirling around for months that the Panthers and Stephen Weiss were going to go their separate ways come summer time. Most of the fan base didn’t want to think about it, or believe it. But around 3pm, Friday afternoon, the Detroit Red Wings announced that Florida’s longest tenured player would be taking his talents to Motor City. The rumor that had spread like rapid fire months before had actually become a reality. After 11 seasons with the Panthers, Florida’s fan favorite Stephen Weiss was leaving the sunny South for good- or at least for the next 5 years.
Even though we all had a feeling that this day would come, for Panther fans, the harsh reality was that the “Stephen Weiss” era was officially over. This era had dated back since 2001 when the Florida Panthers selected 18-year-old Stephen Weiss 4th overall in the NHL Entry Draft, which was held at the Office Depot Center (now BB&T Center). Panther fans were ecstatic to draft the Plymouth Whalers centerman who was nicknamed “Weisserman”, after the great Stevie Yzerman due to their similar 3 zone playing styles.
After splitting time between the OHL, AHL, and NHL for a few seasons, Weiss finally earned a permanent roster spot with the Florida Panthers. But it wasn’t until the 2008-2009 season that Stephen Weiss really became an icon to South Florida hockey fans. With Olli Jokinen gone, and Pete DeBoer named head coach, Weiss was about to be handed the keys to the show. For the next four seasons, Weiss averaged 57 points a year and almost 53% in the face-off circle. Unfortunately for Weiss, he was a first line guy on a team that never found much success.
But on April 5, 2012, the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Buffalo Sabres in regulation, which meant the Panthers had sealed their first playoff spot in over 11 years. After 637 playoff less games for the long time Panther, fans would finally get to see Stephen Weiss appear in his first ever NHL playoff game. Weiss tallied 5 points (3g-2a-5p) during the playoffs to help us to a game 7 double OT series vs. the New Jersey Devils. Although the game was over when Adam Henrqiue slipped one through the 5-hole of Jose Theodore, it didn’t matter because Weiss did it. After 9 seasons with the Florida Panthers, alternate captain, Stephen Weiss had lead his team to the most exciting playoff round most of us have ever witnessed.
Weiss has poured his heart and soul into this team for over a decade now. Even without seeing much success, Weiss never gave up on the team he cared so much about. Now he will begin a new journey, playing for his favorite team as a young boy, and also one of the greatest hockey towns of all. Weiss leaves the Panthers as not only the all-time games played and assists leader, but he leaves behind a legacy and era that will never be forgotten. I think I speak for all fans when I say that Weiss, go knock em’ dead in Detroit. You deserve it…
It’s hard to express in only my words just how much Stephen Weiss really meant to the Florida Panther franchise- but maybe our fans can show you. Below is a compiled list of letters from Panther fans describing their most fond Stephen Weiss moments:
After one practice, Weiss came out and was wearing a shoulder sling. He saw me come over with probably 5 cards for him to sign, but I started to back up because he was having a rough time getting into his car. He was carrying a few items as well. He told me it was okay, and signed all my cards. Stephen, you are of high character, and this organization was lucky to have you. The passion you showed on AND off the ice is something we as Panthers’ fans were happy to watch. We will miss you.. and when you lift the cup for your first time, we will be lifting it with you. God speed #9 - Pantherss88
My favorite Weiss memory is an easy one. On November 21, 2011, Weiss and the Panthers defeated the Devils 4-3 after being down 0-3 in the first. I believe it was the first time they had ever come back from being down 3-0 at home in their history. Weiss earned the first star and 3 points, but his most impressive moment was his shorthanded goal that tied the game 3-3. It was one of the most wild games I have ever attended in person and Weiss was a big part of that. -Jameson Cooper
My favorite memory was the first time I met Stephen Weiss. It was many years ago (late 2005) at Incredible Ice when Mark “Peaches” Brennan was doing all of the equipment repair and skate sharpening at the rink. Peaches and I were standing outside the pro shop and chatting when Stephen came by and joined our conversation. He was wearing a goofy pair of gym shorts with an even goofier pair of knee high socks. He was still a kid. Peaches and I immediately began to make fun of his attire. But he took it all in stride and gave back as good as he got. It immediately struck me what a nice, down to earth guy he was. I would run into him every so often at rink and also at the arena when he was sidelined with his first wrist injury and he never failed to say hello and take time to have a conversation with me. Weisser is one of the good guys in the game and I have no doubt he’ll fit right in with the Red Wings and gain the respect of their fans. -Barry Rothman
The best Stephen Weiss moment was when he scored the OT winner against the Avalanche 12/7/10 as he kicked his rebound to himself and scored as he was falling to the ice and celebrated while sliding into the boards. We don’t get too many OT goals as panthers fans and this one was the best I’ve ever seen. -Max Goldberg
He was probably one of my favorite players on the Panthers while I was growing up. When he scored this goal I was just awestruck, especially against one of the best/biggest defenseman in the game. -Eugene Nagasawa
The Weiss draft coincided precisely with my transformation into a diehard hockey fan. Then the years of futility hit but the one beacon of hope and the one shred of consistency was Stephen Weiss. Since he got drafted the same year I became a fan I felt a connection with him. I felt like “man if he can stick it through these tough times as a player, surely I can as a fan”. He was like one of us. My best memory of Weiss was his shortie on a 5 on 3 against the Devils. As a 20 something college student it’s hard to find friends to appreciate hockey with me so I settled with talking hockey with my friends roommate who is from Boston. We were watching that game and before the game had started I was telling him how finally this year it looked like we had a chance at something, and then 3 quick devils goals happened. Later, Versteeg scores 2, And then two penalties occurred and we were now killing a 5 on 3 and running out of time. Then a blocked shot leads to Weiss in all alone against Brodeur. I was on the edge of my seat and I looked at my friends roommate and said this ones going in. And Weisser roofs it. I am not usually one to scream when I watch games at home but man I just exploded, jumping, yelling and seeing Weiss on screen with that toothless grin I felt that “one of us” connection again. That connection is what I’ll miss. That can not be replaced in my life time. He’ll always be one of us. - Adam Hernandez
Game 2. That is all that needs to be said. Not only did Weiss finally get to experience his first NHL Playoff win (along with a lot of Panther fans), he notched 2 goals in the first minutes of the first two periods. (And if I must say, that was the best game I have been to, and I’ve been going to games since 1998, at 3 years old). -David Silverstone
Over the years, we’ve seen Stephen Weiss play through the good and the bad. Naturally, it’s difficult to see the longest tenured Panther pack his bags, say goodbye and leave his #9 jersey behind him. The moment that defines Stephen Weiss as a Panther occurred on April 15th, 2012. The soul survivor of the Keenan Era lifted a weight off the shoulders of South Florida hockey fans by scoring two goals and leading the Florida Panthers to their first playoff victory in over fifteen years. Weiss helped achieve the impossible and brought a glimmer of hope to us all. Weiss’s professionalism and determination will be sorely missed. I will never forget #9. -Mike Costantino
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