Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys on Sunday, the strongest Category 4 storm to hit the region in 57 years.
It’s a frightening storm that’s shifted course several times. Some NHL players and teams have been proactive in getting away from its path. One team, however, is catching heat for being “stuck” in the storm.
The reaction starts with the Florida Panthers, who have turned the BB&T Center into a storage facility for emergency vehicles and a staging area for local first responders. Panthers president Matthew Caldwell slept at the arena this weekend to help with the coordination.
“I just think it’s important for the Panthers to be leaders and stewards in the community and physically be here with the cops and firefighters and commissioners,” Caldwell told NHL.com. “When you’re on the ground with people, you never know what’s going to happen.”
The Panthers also evacuated several players, their families and pets from South Florida and flew them to Boston – they’ll begin training camp in Springfield on Sept. 14 if they’re unable to return to Sunrise.
The Panthers, meanwhile, are teaming with the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox to collect items in support of the Red Cross on Sunday at Fenway Park.
The rookie tournament that the Tampa Bay Lightning were participating in was moved to Nashville, where the Predators have helped collect items and raise funds for Irma relief and for those struggling after Hurricane Harvey.
The ECHL Florida Everblades, meanwhile, saw their arena turn into a shelter to help those in the path of the storm. A huge line at Germain Arena saw people seeking refuge there, with over 4,000 residents cramming inside the building.
Here’s what the scene looked like:
— Chris Francescani (@CDFrancescani) September 10, 2017
“Space is tight but is still available. It is not for your comfort, but for your safety. If we near capacity, we will update all outlets,” announced the arena.
Finally, what would life be without a little controversy?
The U.S. women’s national hockey team began training in Wesley Chapel, Florida, on Tuesday in preparation for the 2018 Olympics. USA Hockey opted not to evacuate them, and that sparked ire from an agent in an interview with USA Today:
“Six months out from the Olympics why would you put your best athletes through the stress of a hurricane?” agent Brant Feldman told USA TODAY Sports on Saturday.
… In a statement, USA Hockey said the team was not located in an evacuation zone, adding that officials have been in “regular communication with local authorities” and that “arrangements are in place to move to an evacuation center if necessary.”
Feldman went on to play the gender card, as the Tampa Bay Lightning moved their rookie tournament and chartered a flight for 150 people out of the area on Friday.
“All of these men’s teams evacuated, why isn’t the women’s team evacuated?,” Feldman said. “Is it because they are just girls … to me this is stupid, they are our Olympic team.”
Achariya Rezak, a Lightning blogger for Raw Charge, was puzzled by the backlash.
“I am confused about why they are ‘stuck.’ As of this morning, I-4 was totally clear. Is no one able to rent a van and drive?” she wrote on Twitter. “Hello to people unhappy that the US women’s team is ‘stuck.’ They are as ‘stuck’ as the rest of Tampa citizens who don’t have private jets.”