Florida Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad always relished the opportunity to talk with Bill Torrey.
No matter the circumstance, Bjugstad said, Torrey’s infectious positive persona and vast knowledge of the game made it tough to leave the conversation without a smile and a newfound nugget of information or two.
“Win or lose, he always kind of had that energy that it’s a fun game that we’re playing. He always made you feel like you were special,” Bjugstad said. “It didn’t matter who you were.”
That made Torrey’s death in May at the age of 83 in his West Palm Beach home even harder to fathom for the Panthers organization.
Torrey, known for his vintage bow tie and sense of humor in addition to his mark on the NHL, left a lasting imprint on the Panthers organization he helped create 25 years ago.
And at the BB&T Center on Saturday night, before the Panthers played the New York Islanders, they honored the man who helped start the franchise, with Torrey’s four sons taking center ice and doing an honorary puck drop.
“He’s a missed guy around our dressing room,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said.” You can learn a lot from a guy like that.”
Torrey is the third person to be honored during the Panthers’ “Legacy Saturdays” series this season. The team honored goaltender Roberto Luongo on Oct. 13 for becoming the third goaltender in NHL history to play 1,000 career games. On Oct. 20, the Panthers celebrated former captain Ed Jovanovski.
It’s only fitting that the Panthers chose Saturday’s game against the Islanders to honor Torrey as considering his connection to both teams.
Before Torrey made his way to South Florida, he oversaw the up-and-coming Islanders franchise and turned it into arguably the greatest dynasty to come through the NHL ranks. As general manager, he was the franchise’s first employee in 1972. The Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983, at one point won 19 consecutive playoff series and had 14 winning seasons in a row from 1975 to 1988. He earned the nickname “The Architect.”
Five years later, Torrey became the president and general manager of the Florida Panthers, an expansion franchise that brought the sport of hockey to South Florida. It only took three years before the Panthers made their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
“He had a lot of insight, a lot of knowledge, a lot of good stories,” Bjugstad, in his sixth year with the Panthers, said. “Just to have a guy like that to have around the room, he’s been such a big part around hockey in South Florida. He had a great life and did great things.”
Torrey retired from his post as president and GM in 2001 but has worked as a special advisor to current general manager Dale Tallon.
In 2010, the Panthers honored Torrey by retiring the No. 93, symbolic of the year the year the franchise was founded. It’s one of two numbers retired by the Panthres. The other is No. 37 for H. Wayne Huizenga, the Panthers’ original owner.
“He was a guy who was always in my office after a game,” Boughner said. “It was nice to sort of bounce some things off of him. He had a very calming effect. He obviously had been around for a long time. He’s seen everything. He was a good mentor for me. He was somebody that I enjoyed being around.”
In addition to the pregame ceremony, the Panthers are also selling Torrey legacy T-shirts during the game Saturday, with all proceeds going to the Florida Panthers Foundation. The Islanders are wearing bow-tie decals on their helmets as well.