By PATRICK THOMAS
Most people would consider themselves sports fans here in Alabama. Some might even call themselves fanatics. But to say, “I love hockey”? Yeah, that might be a stretch.
The Pelham Bantam Panthers are that exception. “Hockey is awesome,” said Austin Gleason, of Highland Lakes, who plays goalie on the team. “We have an ESPN NHL package so we get every game that comes on TV.”
The Pelham Bantam Panthers club team won the International Silver Stick Trophy at the North American Silver Stick tournament in Pelham, Ontario, Canada, in 2011.
In January, the Pelham Bantam Panthers, consisting of sixteen boys ages thirteen to fourteen from Birmingham and the surrounding areas, headed back to vie for their second Silver Stick Trophy. The team was rewarded a return trip to the Silver Stick Trophy after they won the southern regional tournament in Huntsville, competing against teams from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida.
This time, they didn’t come home empty handed, either.
While there was apparent faith in players, coaches, and parents alike, it was not guaranteed the Panthers would win a second trophy.
“We were excited to be back again but we were unsure as to how we would do,” said Austin.
This year was a little different for the team. Last season, the Panthers played the role of underdog en route to their first championship. This year they had more of a bulls’s-eye on their back.
The Panthers struggled at first going 0-2 with a tie in Round Robin play. Any thoughts of a repeat win almost came to an end.
“We all thought it might be over,” said Peyton Harlow of Alabaster, left wing for the team.
Somehow the Panthers managed to rally together to spark a run once seeding started.
Blake Harlow, Peyton’s brother and a forward and wing for the team, acknowledged that focus changed once the playoffs began. “It was a lose or go home mindset,” said Blake. Peyton echoed that same sentiment as well.
“Our attitude had to change,” said Peyton. “We were not going anywhere unless we turned it on.”
Starting with the quarterfinal game in the Tier 2 bracket, the Panthers turned it on to beat the Chicago Cyclones 3-1. Slowly but surely, the Panthers could sense momentum rising.
The quarterfinal win led to a 6-0 blowout in the semifinals against the Columbus, Ohio, Blue Jackets with each goal coming from a different player on the roster. Feelings of a repeat were more evident than ever.
One signature moment for the Panthers championship run came not in the final game, but in the locker room beforehand.
“I talked about three things with the boys: loyalty, truthfulness and respect. I
asked, ‘Who should you show these qualities to?’” said Head Coach Tony Harlow. “Some of the boys said their parents and some said coaches. I told them, ‘Show loyalty, truthfulness and respect to yourselves. Give it all you have every shift on the ice.’”
The Panthers displayed those traits in stunning fashion as they won the championship game 3-1.
Once the buzzer sounded, the need to maintain composure went out the door. “We knew with about a minute left we were going to win,” said Austin. “But once the buzzer sounded, we just dogpiled the goalie.”
Most people might think winning one Silver Stick trophy was enough. For them, one more is even better.