POMPANO BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - A former Florida Panthers star has begun giving back to the South Florida youth hockey community in a unique way.
The Panthers’ all-time leading scorer, Olli Jokinen, said he had a vision when starting South Florida Hockey Academy. “In the past, the kids in Florida — anyone who’s anywhere near a decent player — they leave when they’re 14 or 15 [years old],” he said.
Most kids on Youth 16 teams would have to go to prepatory schools where hockey is much more popular, like Toronto or Montreal, Boston or Minneapolis.
During year two of the Jokinen’s Hockey Academy, the youth talent are thankful for the opportunity to grow in South Florida. “It’s really nice to be down here with the family,” said SF Hockey Academy goalie Nathan Shields. “It’s tough to leave, so it’s nice to be back, obviously working with Tomáš Vokoun.”
Shields has worked extensively with Vokoun, a former Panthers goalie and 15-year NHL veteran. “It almost brings me back to when you play, with the little minor difference that you don’t actually have to be the one skating,” Vokoun said with a smile. “We’re trying to do something that’s never been here. Obiviously, there’s rough patches and problems down the road, but I think it could be a pretty good program.”
The program’s goal is to prepare kids to play in junior hockey leagues or get a college scholarship.
Jokinen has scheduled games against top 20 teams across North America. “We’re playing AAA teams, which, up north, is the best players,” said SF Hockey Academy Riley Rosenthal. “We’re basically playing at the same level that you would get up north, just staying home.”
Another former Panthers defenseman, Ed Jovanovski, found his way onto the academy’s coaching staff. “The kids think the game well, they’re physically at another level that I thought they would be at,” he said. “I think these kids are well-equipped for the next level, and I think having the right people around them, guiding them in the right direction, is a good start for these kids.”
“We try to make them reach their potential,” said Jokinen. “At the same time, we wanna raise these kids like we would raise our own kids.”
Currently, the SF Hockey Academy is in the semi-finals of a tournament in Boston.
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