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Florida's Plan For Hockey Education

''Panthers University - A unique educational hockey experience."

No, this is not the motto of another posh, upper-class school designed to bankrupt its students for life. In fact, Panthers University was created for the frugal and uneducated. It is a hockey program run by the Florida Panthers in Miami.

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For a small fee, any dedicated fan of the Florida Panthers - one of the National Hockey League's most recent expansion teams - can enroll in a series of three fast-paced classes to give novice hockey fans a chance to learn more about the game's history, strategies, rules, statistics, and equipment.

With the migration of NHL teams to such warm climates as Anaheim and San Jose, Calif.; Dallas; Phoenix; and Miami, organizations like the Florida Panthers are finding innovative ways to educate fans and encourage kids to play hockey.

Unlike such northern cities as Boston and Detroit, which already enjoy burgeoning youth hockey programs and a tradition of deep and lasting fan support, warmer cities are forced to start from scratch.

In addition to Panthers University, the Florida Panthers also hold a one-week ice hockey camp in August to provide aspiring, young hockey players an opportunity to sharpen their skills and learn from a coaching staff that includes Panthers coaches and players.

Along with the NIKE/NHL Street program, the Panthers are also in the process of establishing street hockey programs at local Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA's, community centers, and schools throughout Florida.

On the West Coast, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks have been equally innovative.

Through a program called Disney GOALS, they are implementing a two-pronged strategy of encouraging hockey among youths and fighting inner-city violence.

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"They take underprivileged youths throughout Anaheim off the streets and try to create sportsmanship and teamwork and promote hockey at the same time," says Tory Whittingham, manager of civic affairs and game operations for the Mighty Ducks.

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