Any new or long-time Panthers fan will say it – nothing is as great as throwing a rat onto the ice after your home boys win their game. The excitement of victory is multiplied over by a moment steeped in tradition, and multiplied again by the pack philosophy of everybody else in the arena doing the same crazy thing as you. It’s no wonder that even with a $5 price tag, fans love to have their rats on their person.
But Saturday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils asked a tough question for the Panthers organization and its fans. Amidst rats raining down at inappropriate times during the game, like during faceoffs and in the waning seconds of the third period, should the tradition be ended on the spot?
Many passionate fans might vehemently oppose that thought, but things might be getting out of hand. Rats are showing up on the ice at the most inopportune times, and even though the ice crew is scooping up the rats quickly, it feels like the referees are getting closer and closer to blowing the whistle and calling the Panthers for delay of game. Panther President/CEO Michael Yormark went far enough to say that “This has become a serious issue,” hence the title of this post. The Cats have been lucky that the refs have been loathe to call a penalty to this point of the series, but that’s no to say they won’t in the future. And believe me when I say that Devils fans are up in arms about a lack of calls on this subject. The rule is there in the book, no. 63.4:
In the event that objects are thrown on the ice that interfere with the progress of the game, the Referee shall blow the whistle and stop the play and the puck shall be faced-off at a face-off spot in the zone nearest to the spot where play is stopped. When objects are thrown on the ice during a stoppage in play, including after the scoring of a goal, the Referee shall have announced over the public address system that any further occurrences will result in a bench minor penalty being assessed to the home Team. Articles thrown onto the ice following a special occasion (i.e. hat trick) will not result in a bench minor penalty being assessed.
The Panthers organization is at least doing its part when it comes to this rule. Public address announce Jay Rokeach has been adamant in saying “no rats on the ice” and things of that ilk. To this point, it has all been the fans.
But the golden question is, which fans? The New Jersey Devils have a few members of their fanbase out and about the BankAtlantic Center, and have the ability to purchase a rat just like everybody else in the arena. According to Panther fans on Twitter, quite a few Devils fans were spotted throw rats onto the ice, presumably not in enjoyment of them giving up a goal, but to draw a penalty for their own team. The overhead scoreboard says that any fans throwing them at the wrong time will be escorted from the arena and subject to prosecution, but according to Twitter that has also not been the case. One person said that the ushers didn’t do any kicking out to either home or away fans. Yet another Twitter source claimed that a New Jersey radio station promoted the purposeful throwing of rats by Devils fans in order to draw that delay of game penalty.
Of course, this is all from Twitter, so this is mostly hearsay and second-person reporting, but nothing sounds unrealistic. The Panthers have an issue on their hands about their manner of distribution and how these rats will deal with public relations. The Pantherland store won’t not sell rats to Devils fans: they can’t. Martin Brodeur and others have not so subtly called for the tradition to end, and the league has to at least consider what players of his status have to say. NHL officials run the risk of being called hypocrites if they don’t call a penalty for all these rats, which a few times have actually delayed the game, if only by a few seconds.
The sensible solution would be to take the rats out of Pantherland and stop selling them altogether. However, that wouldn’t do a ton of good. This rat-throwing thing has taken on a life of its own, and it isn’t hard to find rats on eBay, often at cheaper prices than the $5 rats sold by the team. And would the removal of readily available rats only spark the wrongdoers to throw them at a higher clip? There is no way of knowing. Playoff hockey is not a time to be sensible.
At this point, the Panthers have totally embraced the rats on ice shtick and it would be a marketing disaster for them to retreat on what has become such a successful promotion. The national audience is now transfixed on our home fans whenever the Panthers win hockey games: the pleasure of watching a legendarily unsuccessful franchise enjoy playoff victories with a chaos of rat-throwing has captured the hearts of thousands of neutral hockey fans. Even those who live in South Florida who have long ignored hockey are taking a second look at this team. It would make sense for the Panthers to do something drastic in trying to rein in the untimeliness of many rats, but they should let this one run its course by itself. It’s just too much fun for a fanbase making up for lost time.
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