Back in 2009, the Florida Panthers went to Finland to play the Chicago Blackhawks in a two-game series to kick off that season.
As part of their Finnish tour, the Panthers loaded up their bus and took a drive from their base in Helsinki to the city of Tampere to play an exhibition game against Tappara.
In the stands that night was Sasha Barkov who, we all know, would later become the second overall pick of the 2013 NHL draft and eventually be named captain of the Panthers.
On Thursday, it was announced that Barkov was investing in his hometown team, becoming the third-largest shareholder in the parent company of Tappara.
Not only did Barkov’s father Aleksander play for and later serve as an assistant coach with Tappara, but Barkov himself grew up playing for the Tappara youth teams and spent two seasons with the senior team before being selected by the Panthers.
On Thursday, Barkov spoke on a Zoom meeting and said being able to invest and continue his support of the team was important to him.
By the way, Tappara beat the Panthers 3-2 in a shootout in that 2009 exhibition.
“This is a huge thing for me and my family,” Barkov said from his home in Boca Raton. “That team is probably one of the most important things for my family.
“My dad played most of his career there; I grew up with the team, went through the junior system and played two years in the Finnish Elite League.
“I will never forget those years, playing and training with them every summer. I know the whole organization, the guys on the team. I always felt I was part of the team, but now, I feel honored to become one of the owners and hopefully bring something new and some knowledge to the organization moving forward.”
Barkov remained in South Florida following the NHL putting the 2019-20 season on pause back on March 12.
He was one of the first players to return to the team’s training facility in Coral Springs and said being back on the ice gearing up for the scheduled start of training camp next month has “been amazing.”
The Panthers are slated to play the New York Islanders in a best-of-5 qualification round for the Stanley Cup playoffs later this summer.
“Just being there and skating in smaller groups has been good, we have been getting more reps on the ice and get to do more skating because there is more room,’’ said Barkov, who scored 28 goals with 64 points in 85 games as a teenager with Tappara from 2011-13.
“Seeing some of my teammates and the training staff again has been good. It feels almost back to normal. It has been a really good thing. Obviously I have not been doing much other than staying at home so going to the rink has been my best parts of the week.’’