Garden grows: Panthers spring up in class, and so do hopes | High School

SPRING GARDEN — Luke Welsh spent a chilly December day trying to wrap his mind around news.

Not that news. COVID-19 hadn’t become a thing in the United States by December of 2019. George Floyd hadn’t happened.

The unfathomable news that preoccupied Welsh’s mind Dec. 17? Just in time for his senior year as Spring Garden’s running back, just as the Panthers had gained footing in Class 1A, the Alabama High School Athletic Association announced the next reclassification cycle.

Spring Garden would bump up to 2A for the first time in school history, and Welsh couldn’t believe it.

“I thought it was bullcrap, because I just didn’t understand,” he said. “We have a general store and no red lights. There’s, like, 35 or 40 people in each of our classes, and I was just confused how we’d be a 2A.”

Turns out, it was no ominous sign of things to come in 2020. Not, at least, for Spring Garden’s football team.

Spring Garden football

Starting QB Ryley Kirk passes the ball during Spring Garden football practice. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star




The Panthers enter their midseason non-region game at 3A Hokes Bluff at 4-0, including a COVID-19 forfeit from Locust Fork. Spring Garden outscored the three opponents it played 150-14.

The Panthers beat Cherokee County rival Cedar Bluff for only the fourth time in 46 tries … 55-0.

In two 2A, Region 6 games, the Panthers beat West End-Walnut Grove 62-0 and Cleveland 33-14.

Spring Garden enters the Hokes Bluff game ranked No. 5 in 2A, matching their highest 1A ranking in 2019. The Panthers won their first two region titles and made their first two quarterfinal runs in 2018 and 2019.

They were never ranked in 2018.

Spring Garden was somewhat of a Johnny-come-lately in 1A. The Panthers made nine of their 11 playoff appearances under current head coach Jason Howard. They got their first playoff victory in 2008 and advanced past the second round for the first time in 2018.

So forgive Welsh for wondering how a small, rural school that’s made more hey in basketball than it ever had in football, the ultimate numbers game, could be 2A.

Others wondered the same.

“We had some tough times in 1A,” Welsh said. “We had to really work hard to get where we were the past couple of years.

“We jumped to 2A, which was a little unexpected. I think everybody saw that and didn’t really know what to think about us.”

Spring Garden’s 30-man roster still looks like a 1A roster in number, but all 11 starters on offense returned this season. Quarterback Ryley Kirk, Welsh and Weston Kirk at running back and wide receivers Cooper Austin and Chaz Pope helped the Panthers score 461 points, the third-highest total in school history, in 2019.

Turns out, their level translated a class higher.

“I thought we’d be competitive,” Howard said. “I feel like we’re in one of the tougher regions around.”

An Oct.

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NHL let Florida Panthers handle abuse probe, discipline of former assistant Mike Kitchen

The NHL said it was aware of an incident where a Florida Panthers assistant coach allegedly kicked a player on the bench, but said that it left any investigation and punishment up to the team.

Canada’s TSN reported this week that coach Mike Kitchen, 64, kicked a Panthers player on the bench during a Jan. 20 game between Florida and the Minnesota Wild. The report claimed that Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Dale Tallon were made aware of the incident after the game.

The Panthers announced this week that Kitchen would not return to their coaching staff next season, though they didn’t specify why. After the incident, he remained on the staff through the March 12 “pause” due to COVID-19. Kitchen opted out of joining the team in the Toronto “bubble” for the restarted postseason. Florida was eliminated by the New York Islanders in the qualification round.

The alleged incident happened just over a month after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said there was a “zero tolerance policy” for teams not informing the league of incidents of abuse.

“Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind,” Bettman said at the December 2019 board of governors meeting in Pebble Beach, California. “Going forward, our clubs are on notice that if they become aware of an incident of conduct involving NHL personnel, on or off the ice, that is clearly inappropriate, unlawful or demonstrably abusive or that may violate league policies, either [deputy commissioner] Bill Daly or me must be immediately advised.”

Daly said the Panthers did reach out to the league about the incident.

“The team made me aware of the incident a while ago. We discussed with the team the appropriate approach,” Daly told ESPN on Saturday. “The team conducted its own investigation and made its own decision.”

Kitchen had been an assistant coach for 26 seasons, including with Quenneville on the Chicago Blackhawks bench from 2010 to 2017. He was head coach of the St. Louis Blues for 131 games from 2003-04 to 2006-07. He rejoined Quenneville in 2019-20, the head coach’s first season in Florida.

Tallon’s contract expired after the season, and he was replaced as general manager by Columbus assistant GM Bill Zito. Tallon is also under investigation by the NHL for allegedly using a racial slur while with the team in Toronto.

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Assistant Mike Kitchen fired by Panthers after report he kicked player

Assistant coach Mike Kitchen will not return to the Florida Panthers next season among a series of staffing changes announced Tuesday.

TSN reported Kitchen kicked a Panthers player on the bench during a game in January and the team held an internal investigation. A team spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email seeking confirmation.

Kitchen oped out of coaching in the NHL’s post-season for personal reasons, saying in July: “It was a difficult decision to say the least but the right decision for me and my family.” The 64-year-old rejoined coach Joel Quenneville behind the bench this season for the first time since 2016-17, and the two won the Stanley Cup together twice with Chicago.

TSN reported Quenneville and former general manager Dale Tallon were notified of the incident after the game. The team did not renew Tallon’s contract and last month hired Bill Zito as its new GM.

Beyond Kitchen’s departure, longtime NHL executives Rick Dudley and Paul Fenton were named senior advisers to the GM, and recently retired player Gregory Campbell is the new vice-president of player personnel and development after four years in player development with Columbus. Blake Geoffrion was named assistant to the GM, and P.J. Fenton has joined the scouting staff.

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Assistant coach Mike Kitchen won’t return to Florida Panthers amid report he kicked player

SUNRISE, Fla. — Assistant coach Mike Kitchen will not return to the Florida Panthers next season among a series of staffing changes announced Tuesday.

Canada’s TSN reported Kitchen kicked a Panthers player on the bench during a game in January, and the team held an internal investigation. A team spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email seeking confirmation.

Kitchen opted out of coaching in the NHL’s postseason for personal reasons, saying in July: “It was a difficult decision to say the least but the right decision for me and my family.” The 64-year-old rejoined coach Joel Quenneville behind the bench this season for the first time since 2016-17, and the two won the Stanley Cup together twice with Chicago.

TSN reported Quenneville and former general manager Dale Tallon were notified of the incident after the game. The team did not renew Tallon’s contract and last month hired Bill Zito as its new GM.

Beyond Kitchen’s departure, longtime NHL executives Rick Dudley and Paul Fenton were named senior advisers to the GM, and recently retired player Gregory Campbell is the new vice president of player personnel and development after four years in player development with Columbus. Blake Geoffrion was named assistant to the GM, and P.J. Fenton has joined the scouting staff.

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Kitchen not back with Panthers amid report he kicked player

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Assistant coach Mike Kitchen will not return to the Florida Panthers next season among a series of staffing changes announced Tuesday.

Canada’s TSN reported Kitchen kicked a Panthers player on the bench during a game in January and the team held an internal investigation. A team spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email seeking confirmation.

Kitchen oped out of coaching in the NHL’s postseason for personal reasons, saying in July: ”It was a difficult decision to say the least but the right decision for me and my family.” The 64-year-old rejoined coach Joel Quenneville behind the bench this season for the first time since 2016-17, and the two won the Stanley Cup together twice with Chicago.

TSN reported Quenneville and former general manager Dale Tallon were notified of the incident after the game. The team did not renew Tallon’s contract and last month hired Bill Zito as its new GM.

Beyond Kitchen’s departure, longtime NHL executives Rick Dudley and Paul Fenton were named senior advisers to the GM, and recently retired player Gregory Campbell is the new vice president of player personnel and development after four years in player development with Columbus. Blake Geoffrion was named assistant to the GM, and P.J. Fenton has joined the scouting staff.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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Florida Panthers part ways with Kitchen after alleged kicking incident

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The Florida Panthers have parted ways with veteran assistant coach Mike Kitchen after he allegedly kicked a Panthers player on the bench during a game this season, multiple sources have told TSN.

Kitchen did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Panthers said in a news release on Tuesday evening only that “Mike Kitchen will not return as assistant coach,” and declined to offer further comment, citing company policy on personnel matters.

A National Hockey League official confirmed the league has been apprised of an internal investigation by the Panthers.

According to sources, the alleged incident occurred in the third period of Florida’s win in Minnesota on Jan. 20. A Panthers player threw a water bottle on the bench in frustration, dousing Kitchen, who allegedly kicked the player in response.

One source described Kitchen’s kick as “full on,” saying he “reared back and booted [him] in the lower back in anger,” as a result of being soaked.

“This certainly wasn’t a friendly tap of encouragement,” the source said. “There’s no place for anything like that in the game.”

Sources said now former Panthers GM Dale Tallon and head coach Joel Quenneville were notified of the alleged incident immediately following the game.

Tallon was not present at the game, a source said, but no disciplinary action was taken when Tallon rejoined the team the following day in Chicago, ahead of Quenneville’s first game back coaching against the Blackhawks.

That next night was also Kitchen’s first game back in Chicago after helping the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015 as Quenneville’s top lieutenant.

Kitchen, 64, has been on or behind an NHL bench for more than 3,000 games as a player, assistant coach and head coach – almost consecutively since 1990, including 27 of the last 29 seasons. He has coached the Maple Leafs, Blues, Blackhawks and was on his second stint in South Florida.

Kitchen replaced Quenneville as the Blues’ head coach for parts of three seasons (2004-2006), compiling a 38-70-4-19 record. The two later joined forces again in Chicago, before reuniting in Florida last summer.

After the alleged incident, Kitchen was permitted to continue coaching without apparent punishment through to the NHL pause March 13 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kitchen then opted out from participating in Florida’s qualifying-round series against the New York Islanders in the Toronto bubble in August.

At the time, Kitchen said in a statement that not participating was a “difficult decision to say the least, but the right decision for me and my family.” The Panthers said then they “fully support this decision.”

Quenneville recently told reporters that he expected his entire coaching staff to return for the 2021 season, saying Kitchen was involved in coaching when the Panthers returned home from the bubble.

“I know Kitch, and in a lot of ways, I know exactly what makes him work and I think we’ve got a great working relationship,” Quenneville told reporters.

Tallon and the Panthers “mutually agreed

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