This article was originally published in April 2012.
With the Florida Panthers finally back in the NHL Playoffs, a new generation of fans is experiencing one of hockey’s greatest traditions.
For older Panthers fans, the Rats’ return to South Florida is a sight for sore eyes and leads them to fondly reminisce about the Panthers’ magical run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. however, for the younger generation, a brief history lesson may be in order on the history behind flying vermin.
the origins of the florida panther rats
The history of rats dates back to Oct. January 8, 1995. Prior to a game against the Calgary Flames, a rat appeared in the Panthers’ locker room at the Old Miami Arena. Former Panther captain Scott Melanby jumped up, grabbed a stick and slammed the pesky rodent into a wall. Later that night, Mellanby scored two goals, prompting then-Panthers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck to joke, “He scored a rat trick.”
According to legend, the following night, a fan threw a plastic rat onto the ice. the following night, a few more rodents were found slithering across the playing surface. A hockey tradition was born in South Florida, and the Year of the Rat was in full swing.
During that season, fans threw rats onto the ice after every goal, leading the Panthers to team up with the Orkin Terminator Company and have men in Terminator uniforms clean the rink. it was incredible to see the opposing goalkeepers, possibly the toughest athletes in any sport, cowering in their nets as the rats descended on them. due to the new panther tradition, miami arena became one of the most rowdy and hostile sports.
however, as panthers faded, so did panther rats. fans weren’t throwing them into games anymore and they seemed like just a distant memory.
resurgence of florida panther rats
However, for some reason, something happened in 2012 and with this group of panthers. for the first time in recent memory, fans started throwing rats again after the team won. Call it a coincidence if you like, but the Rats’ return also coincided with the team’s return to the playoffs and even its first Southeast Division crown.
the new ownership group, which had already brought a version of the classic red sweaters, embraced the tradition and began selling plastic rats at the atlantic center bank. it’s clear the team has also embraced tradition, often talking about the 1996 cup race and how wonderful it is to see fans involved again. many players have even collected rats as souvenirs after key victories.
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Believe it or not, but the rats became an argument in the first round playoff series against the new jersey devils. The flying rodents seem to have gotten to certain Devils players, including Martin Brodeur. The NHL has asked the Panthers organization to stop selling rats in the arena after some made their way onto the ice during the game. of course, the panthers claimed that these were due to demon zealots, trying to gain an advantage for their team. for now, the team is asking fans to throw the rats onto the ice after a win rather than mid-game.
Which side you choose to believe in, it’s hard to deny the importance of lore to Panther fans. the resurgence of the Panther Rats, coupled with the success of the team, has reinvigorated a once lethargic fan base. perhaps if the Panthers continue to be successful, the younger generation of Panther fans will finally have fond memories of their own.