WILMINGTON — What you’re about to read is pretty sad stuff. It’s another entry in the series of the Bruins’ rescue mission of saving a couple of Florida Panthers  from a smaller fan base and a team that failed to make the playoffs during their tenures. Without further ado:
Nathan Horton  and Gregory Campbell  both played their entire careers in Florida prior to being acquired by the Bruins in June in the Dennis Wideman  deal. It was as members of the Panthers that the two forwards learned the NHL  game and established themselves in the league.
Though they saw a lot of things on the ice in Florida, looking above it and into the stands didn’t allow them to see much. In four of Horton’s six seasons in Florida, the Panthers finished 22nd or worse in attendance. As the Bruins prepare for their home opener on Thursday against the Capitals, it’s only natural that the Garden will be packed with die-hards donning their black and gold. After all, it goes without saying that the fans show up to see the home team, right?
Maybe not. Asked what types of games led to higher attendance in Florida, Horton noted that on games in which the opponent was a more popular team from the northeast, larger groups of that club’s fans would show up to root against the home team.
“[The attendance] went up when we played Canadian teams just because there were a lot of people from Quebec down there, but they were not cheering for the Panthers,” Horton said.
“It was,” Horton said. “Some nights you’d get no one. Some nights you’d get a lot of people when you were playing a good team like a Canadian team. It was just the way it worked, I guess.”
During the stretches in which attendance was low, the players took solace in using the crowds of other teams if they wanted to get a better sense of a fan base. If you think the low turnout for the Panthers tells the story of just how bad the situation was in Florida, an honest quote from Campbell just may push things over the edge.
“I actually always enjoyed playing on the road with Florida just because we could get that atmosphere,” Campbell said. “Not to say it wasn’t good to play at home, but [Horton] is right when he says that the bigger draws that we got were from the northeast teams and the Canadian teams. To play in front of a sold-out crowd and a crowd that’s really behind you is going to be pretty special.”
There are bad hockey towns, and there’s depressing. Neither player will say a negative word about the Panthers or their fans, a respectable move for something that undoubtedly must have been frustrating at times. But that’s in the past. The two players will now be playing for a home team that fans line up to see, and they’re glad the opportunity has finally come.
“It’s definitely nice [to be the team the fans are coming to see],” Horton said. “The crowd was so loud, even in preseason. They get so excited and it makes you want to win. It makes you push harder.”