Well boys and girls, the offseason is winding down and only a few weeks sit between us and the new NHL season. Team Canada and Team USA have already opened their Olympic camps for the winter games in Sochi, Russia, and the wheels of the hockey world are beginning to turn. While only being about a month away from hockey, there is still not too much going on in the league, so we’re going to continue our look back at some of the best moments in the NHL’s past. For one of our last installments, we take a trip to South Florida to visit with one of the NHL’s youngest franchises and perhaps a fanbase’s most unique celebration.
The Lead Up:
The Florida Panthers are not the most prestigious NHL franchise to say the least. The team has been a perennial basement dweller with a sprinkling of success mixed in. The team’s most successful season by far was 1995-96. In fact, from the very beginning, it was clear that this season would be very different from years past. While preparing for their home opener against the Calgary Flames, a rat was running amuck in the Panthers locker room. As you could imagine it was probably a comical scene, until veteran Scott Mellanby showed the rat the business end of his hockey stick, shooting it across the room and killing it. That night, using the rat-murder weapon, Mellanby scored twp goals and the Panthers defeated the Flames, 4-3. After the game, All-Star Panthers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck referred to the locker room incident and Mellanby’s resulting game by saying, “He just missed the hat trick, but he got the rat trick.” Coincidentally, 1995 was the Chinese “year of the rat,” and South Florida was well onboard with that. After the Panthers scored a goal in their next game, a lone plastic rat was tossed to the ice by someone from the hometown crowd, and each home game and home goal after that, the amount of rats increased.
The Florida Panthers rode the wave of the rat all the way to the Stanley Cup Final that season. After every home goal for the Panthers, the fans would litter the ice with plastic rats, causing a long delay and opposing netminders to crouch inside their net for protection from the decorative rodents. Once in the Stanley Cup Final, the Panthers quickly went down 2-0 in their series against the Colorado Avalanche, before returning home for Game 3. This moment is a bittersweet one for Florida fans (both of them), because the largest rat toss that Florida ever saw happened on June 8, 1996 when Jamie Sheppard scored a goal to tie Game 3 at one. While at the peak of the playoff run/rat wave, thousands of plastic rats were tossed to the ice, causing an extended delay while 25 members of the stadium crew dressed up as Orkin Exterminators (Orkin paid a pretty penny for this sponsorship) picked up the rats. In his typical fiery and defiant nature, Avs’ Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy refused to take shelter in his net, and went as far as to speak to the team at intermission and declared “no more rats.” True to his word and fitting his illustrious career, Roy did not allow another goal the entire series as the Avalanche went on to sweep the Cinderella Panthers.
Remnants of the “Year of the Rat” can still be seen today during the rare occurrence that the Panthers make the playoffs. Every time the team wins a playoff game, you can still see a handful of plastic rats tossed to the ice at the end of the game. It seems that the extremely small die-hard fan base in Florida respects traditions as much as any other (albeit larger) fan base in the league.
Thank you for reading The Cover 4! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook & Twitter.
Oh yeah, tell your friends too!