(Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment of this series, where we reach out to other writers from around the SB Nation family to learn more about their history with the sport, how the Blackhawks line up with other teams, and some general hockey talk.)
Todd Little is entrenched in all things hockey.
Although he was born in Miami, his father was transferred to Birmingham, Ala. when Little was a child and that’s where Little went with his father and brother to watch the WHA’s Birmingham Bulls (which, since the 2017-18 season, have been part of the SPHL).
“I was hooked on hockey.”
Unfortunately, since the family moved around a lot in the late 1970s and ‘80s, Little often found it difficult to watch hockey. Eventually, they moved back to Florida and several things coalesced that would allow him to continue to be a dedicated hockey follower:
“ESPN started showing hockey, then it was the 1980 Olympics (when Team USA upset the Soviet Union for gold), and then four WHL teams moved to the NHL,” Little said. “I decided to follow the team that was farthest away from Florida, and hence I became an Oilers fan!” (Author’s note: Good choice, Todd!)
As soon as the Panthers came to Florida in 1993 as part of the NHL’s expansion, Little’s hockey affinity immediately went to the home team, capitalizing on the excitement of having a local team to follow.
“I always wanted to have a team down here,” he said. “I was really excited about the team that I got season tickets right away.”
Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a plenitude of hockey fans in Fort Lauderdale, nor were there any possibilities for Little to play hockey while growing up in Florida.
“I really missed out on the hockey stuff when I was a kid by about 15 or 20 years, I wish I would have learned to skate. One day I’d like to play ice hockey.” He does, however, enjoy his ball hockey team. “ We have about 25 different guys that circle in and out of the team, actually, it was a friend of mine from Litter Box Cats that introduced me to the team and I love it!”
As for the fans: “Even though we don’t have a huge fan base, especially compared to other cities, the hardcore people are really into it so what we do have is a very passionate fan base.”
Around 2010 or so, Little recalled: “the local coverage of the team was lacking, the team wasn’t playing well, and after years of not making the playoffs, we lost that solid bandwagon of sports fans due to that.” He admits that even he was losing interest.
“But then I found the Litter Box Cats, signed up for the site and started talking hockey and engaging on the site. Donnie, the editor at the time, asked me to start writing for the site, so I did. Writers have come and gone, but I’ve been the constant one for the last five years.” And now Little is the site’s editor.
One of Little’s passions as a sportswriter is on the deep and rich history of hockey. “I do like writing about the games, the off-ice stuff, trades and things, but I’m very much into NHL history and its past. We could really learn more about its past, and a lot of people really don’t know anything about it, especially fans of the recent teams. They just don’t know about this history.”
“When I first started writing about hockey, I wrote a lot about teams that aren’t around anymore. Some of the expansion teams that have come and gone, or about the Original Six. There’s actually a little bit about hockey history in Florida (including with the Eastern Hockey League, the Sunshine Hockey League, and the history of the Southern Hockey League) and there’s even some history of hockey in Miami in the 1930s.”
As far as the present-day version of hockey in Florida, Little said the Panthers are exceeding expectations. “Before the season started, on paper I thought we’d be in sixth place, but we’ve won 16 out of 24. We’re not used to seeing that amount of winning so it would be nice to not have to just squeak into fourth place.”
Not all fans agree with Little and the possibility of a playoff run, though. “I run a regular season predictions section on the site for our readers. You have to pick first and last place in the divisions. I kinda do it for bragging rights. Only two people picked the Panthers to make it.”
But Little also said the team is not a finished product. “Their depth could be better — mostly in the bottom six — and we could use another experienced center. And I’d like to see a veteran on the fourth line. Some of the young guys are filling the roles (that would be for more experienced players), mostly for financial reasons, I think, but they’re doing pretty good. I think they could use a couple players at the trade deadline, maybe not to get us into the playoffs but support the team after that.”
Little also had thoughts on how the divisions looked following a realignment caused by the pandemic. “I like the way the divisions are. I’m probably in the minority, but I wouldn't mind if they stayed the same way. I like having Chicago in our division. Sure, there are some teams we miss playing, but I like the hockey that’s being played.”
As for the matchup against the Blackhawks, Little said: “The games are going to be exciting. Both teams can score. Actually, some of the guys on my ball hockey team are from Chicago, and they are surprised by how well the Blackhawks are doing.”
He adds, “A couple of months ago I’d say we should sweep these games. The Panthers looked good at the beginning of the season but then the Hawks turned it around. I’m surprised by the caliber of the rookie goaltending and their performance despite the injuries. But at some point these goalies just can’t hold the team’s (performance) together anymore.”
Thanks Todd, now let’s go Hawks!
[Editor’s note: Little’s predictions were made before the first game between Chicago and Florida on Saturday]