I’ve been following the Florida Panthers since they first came into the NHL in 1993, which was also the year I had moved to South Florida from Chicago. I’ve been a devoted and often critical fan of this team, but only for the simple reason that I want to win, and have little patience for losing. I started writing for another site in 2008, but felt the need to have a larger audience (I wanted to grow from 2 readers to 4) and came across the FanSided Sports Network in the summer of 2009. One of the first things that had to be done after the Best brothers, Adam and Zach decided to take their chance on this opinionated goof, was to pick a name. Adam, Zach, and I tossed around a bunch of names, and while we had a few good one’s, The Rat Trick is the one that stuck,and has obviously made the most sense. People who aren’t from this area often ask me “So, how’d you get the name? Here’s the story behind it:
During their magical run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, the Florida Panthers faithful would toss plastic rats onto the ice following goals scored by the home team in celebration. It was quite a chaotic scene which saw games held up for minutes on end while the officials and home team employees who were dressed up as exterminators, were picking up the plastic varmants in order to clear the ice. It has since become against league rules for fans to throw the rats (or anything) on the ice during games, but after the Florida Panthers defeated the Washington Capitals here at home last Monday night, rats were tossed to honor the home team, and apparently revitalized one of the most unique traditions the NHL has ever seen.
This whole rat throwing, Rat Trick thing began during that Stanley Cup run when former Panther Scott Mellanby swatted a rat off the wall in the clubs’ dressing room before a game against the Calgary Flames. Mellanby would later use that same stick to score two goals to help the Panthers defeat the Flames 4-3, whereby goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck would call it a “Rat Trick”. The plastic rats hit the ice in the third home game following the incident, and the craze lasted all season long.
Billy Lindsay now a color announcer for the Panthers was a on that team during that memorable run, and told the Sun-Sentinel of his memory of how the whole incident came to be:
“The rat looked more like a beaver from where I was. It was huge,” Lindsay says. “It ran down the hallway and did a lap or two around the dressing room. Everyone was jumping away. [Mellanby] grabbed his stick and batted it across into the wall, but the rest of us were trying to hide like schoolgirls.”
Lindsay says Mellanby played the game with blood on his stick.
I remember that I used to laugh when the goalies would crouch down and hide in the crease to avoid being hit by any of the plastic critters. It was an exciting time and for awhile one of the craziest traditions you had ever seen. The Rat Trick is so famous it even has it’s own Wikipedia page. As I said earlier, the NHL disallows the rats being thrown after goals, but after games the action is totally allowed, and it could be making a comeback. Tonight.
Starting with tonight’s game against the New Jersey Devils, plastic rats will be sold, and the tradition will look to come alive again. Ed Jovanovski who was a rookie in the ’96 season thinks it’s a good thing that the rats are coming back:
“It’s nice to see the rats. It means you’re winning games,” Jovanovski says. “I think any time fans can have fun with it, we can enjoy it as well.”
With the team finally looking as though the playoff drought could be ending, it’s a perfect time to bring back the tradition, and show support for the team, while having fun doing so at the same time. The fans who have stuck with this team in the good and mostly bad times deserve the chance to now show their enthusiasm for the teams revitalization.
So if and when you’re going to a home game, make sure you stop in Pantherland and buy your “game night” rat. Tell ‘em The Rat Trick sent ya!
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