Duclair rink groundbreaking

LAUDERDALE LAKES, Fla. -- A historic initiative of Anthony Duclair’s charitable foundation was realized Wednesday, just over a year after the organization’s formation was announced.

Last February, on the eve of the 2023 NHL All-Star Weekend in South Florida, the then-Florida Panthers forward said he was committing himself to making hockey more inclusive, combating racism in the game and growing the sport in the region.

And on Wednesday afternoon, at a high school about 7 miles northwest of where the Anthony Duclair Foundation’s launch party was held that night last year in Fort Lauderdale, there was a groundbreaking for the first synthetic outdoor ice sheet in Broward County.

Although Duclair now plays for the San Jose Sharks after they acquired him in a trade with the Panthers on July 1, he said his commitment to the South Florida community remains strong.

“This is a second home for me and it is great to be back,” said Duclair, who played three seasons for Florida. “I promised when I started the foundation that we were going to build rinks here and it does not matter that I got traded away; I am going to honor that and even go beyond that. South Florida will always have a special place in my heart. Everyone was so good to me here. It is a no-brainer to try and grow the sport down here.”

With representatives from the NHL and NHL Players’ Association, local dignitaries and members of the Panthers front office in attendance, Boyd Anderson High School Principal James F. Griffin II praised Duclair for bringing hockey to his community and his school.

Duclair and Bokondji Imama, a forward playing for the Ottawa Senators’ American Hockey League affiliate in Belleville, held youth development camps in Florida and Montreal last summer.

Those youth camps will return -- one at the Panthers IceDen in nearby Coral Springs in June, and one in Laval, Quebec, in July. A third camp will be held in Oakland, California, near San Jose, in April.

The charitable arms of the Panthers and Sharks are sponsors of the Anthony Duclair Foundation.

Some of the biggest cheers from the students on hand Wednesday came when Duclair spoke of growing up in Montreal and being of Haitian descent. Boyd Anderson High School is located in a large Haitian community. The school has a 98 percent minority enrollment, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Duclair, who was joined by Imama at the event Wednesday, hopes introducing the students at Boyd Anderson and those in the surrounding community to hockey will help continue to grow the game in the area.

“This is a perfect spot with all the ethnicities and different backgrounds,” he said. “It is personal to me since there is such a big Haitian presence.”

Duclair rink rendering

Aside from skating on the synthetic ice, the project at Boyd Anderson will incorporate programs that teach the fundamentals of hockey, teamwork and sportsmanship.

“I love hearing those cheers, and that’s why we came here,” Duclair said. “This is a big Haitian community in South Florida and I am just happy to be here and am blessed. This is a dream come true. I did not think this would be possible. You make it to the NHL and [to] be able to give back by doing something like this is great. I am super proud of my [foundation] team who worked so hard the past few months to make this possible while I was busy with my season. This is a great event and a great day.’’

The Duclair Foundation joined with the NHL/NHLPA Industry Growth Fund to construct the 100-by-50-foot rink. Duclair said the Glice North America synthetic ice panels should be fully put together in the coming months and the rink will be available for use.

The Industry Growth Fund will fully fund the rink's construction, and the NHLPA Goals & Dreams fund donated $50,000 to purchase sticks, pads, helmets, goal cages and skates for use on the rink.

“We hope to give kids access to something they do not often see, which is an outdoor hockey rink in South Florida,’’ said Rob Knesaurek, NHL senior vice president, community development and industry growth.

“We are giving kids a chance to play the game. They have an NHL team here and I am sure many of them have never been to a game to see it. We want to show the community and the country that hockey is for everyone. We have had our challenges, Anthony talked about some of them. And we are trying to eradicate them. We want the kids to know this is a safe and available space.”

The Florida Panthers Foundation pledged $100,000 to the Duclair’s foundation last year. Those funds will support community programs on the Boyd Anderson rink.

Florida general manager Bill Zito attended the event with Brett Peterson, who became the first Black assistant GM in NHL history when he joined the Panthers in 2020.

Peterson will also serve as the GM for Team USA at the upcoming World Championships.

“This is huge,’’ said Peter Worrell, a former forward with Florida and the Colorado Avalanche who has been active in the youth hockey scene in South Florida since his retirement and now works for the Panthers.

“This is a real opportunity to bring the game to some people who have never been involved with it before. Now they will get to learn all the great things you learn from hockey from the fun of it, to the fitness, the love of the game. Just having a different path, a different avenue. The goal of our organization is to get more sticks into more people’s hands. This may not be a Florida Panthers event, but this is going to be great for our community and great for us building a bigger love for our game in South Florida.”