Friday, October 8, 2010
Every flood begins with one drop and such was the case of perhaps the most unusual goal celebration in NHL history.
Prior to the Florida Panthers's home opener on this date in 1995, Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the team's locker room as it scurried across the floor by using his stick to fire the rodent across the room, killing it with a "one-timer" slap shot. Later that night Mellanby netted a pair of goals in the Panthers 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames, which teammate John Vanbiesbrouck dubbed "a rat trick" when talking to reporters after the contest.
"We were all dressed, ready to go on the ice for the first home game of the season," said Mellanby. "The rat came into the room. Understandably, there was a lot of commotion. Everyone got pretty nervous and excited. I got nervous and excited. I guess I just reacted. I one-timed it. I wasn't even thinking."
Following the story in the paper of "The Rat Trick", the torrent that became "The Year of the Rat" began with that single drop as two games later a fan threw a rubber rat on the ice after a Panthers goal. Then in the next game 16 more fans threw rubber rats and the game after that the total number of rats was 50 and the unique goal celebration was on it's way while Panthers did their part as they kept on winning.
Quickly a 100 rats would be tossed by the fans and by the time the season was 20 games old, as many as 200 rats bounced across the ice a night and the celebration was embraced by the team. This led to "exterminators" in Orkin Pest Control uniforms coming onto the ice to clean up the rats, which were now appearing on t-shirts and the Panthers dressing room was renamed "The Rats Nest."
After 20 games, the Panthers were 14-5-1. They maintained that pace and by game 50 they were 31-14-5 and the rats continued to rain down on the ice. A rough stretch saw them go 10-17-5 over their last 32 games left Florida with 92 points and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, good enough for home ice advantage in the first round, an impressive showing for a team in only it's third season.
The Panthers would meet the Boston Bruins in Round 1, whom they defeated 4 games to 1. With all the favorites winning in the first round the Panthers drew the top seeded Philadelphia Flyers, who they knocked out 4-2, launching the rat throwing to new heights as the Panthers playoff bandwagon grew. The Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Finals by outlasting the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3.
Once in the finals against the Colorado Avalanche, the rat throwing was a flood unlike any seen before in NHL history, as each goal was greeted by a peak of 3,000 rats blackening the ice as they flew from every direction, which affected the games with lengthy delays as an ever growing crew of "exterminators", now having reached 40 in number, did their best to clean up the ice as quickly as possible, no longer able to pick them up by hand, but scooping them up with shovels as the goaltenders retreated into their nets for protection against the flying projectiles.
In the finals, Colorado won Game 1 at home 3-1 and Game 2 by 8-1. Now back in Florida, the Panthers scored in the twice in the first period of Game 3, and the fans unleashed a torrent of rats in celebration both times. Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy refused to acknowledge the rats by not ducking into his goal while the rubber rodents rained down all around him. During the first intermission, Roy promised his team there would be "no more rats" and kept the Panthers off the board for the remainder of the game, which went to Colorado 3-2.
Game 4 was a scoreless through regulation as well as two overtime periods until German Uwe Krupp scored the cup winning goal for Colorado at 4:31 of the third overtime as Roy made good on his word to keep the puck out of the net and the rats off the ice.
With the rat tossing celebration having gone from clever to fun to excessive to annoying, the NHL ruled in the off season that if fans threw debris onto the ice, the referee was within his power to call a delay of game penalty against their club, putting an end to The Year of the Rat.
Vanbiesbrouck, the man who coined the phrase "Rat Trick" navigates through the eventual results of his cleverness
Mellanby was originally drafted by the Flyers and played for them for six seasons, which included a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1987, before two seasons with the Edmonton Oilers. He was left unprotected by the Oilers and was claimed by the Panthers in the 1993 NHL Expansion Draft, making him an original member of the Panthers and scored the first goal in franchise history on October 9, 1993. As one of the veterans on the expansion Panthers, he became a team leader and a fan favorite, especially after his famous "rat trick" and the young team's strong showing on the ice in 1995-96. He was named the Panthers captain in 1997 and remained so for the rest of his time in Florida.
After seven and a half seasons in Florida, which included a career high 32 goals and 70 points during the magical 1995-96 season, Mellanby was traded to the St. Louis Blues in 2000-01. He was a member of the Blues for three and a half seasons, including a 57 point season in 2002-03, his best since 1995-96. He then signed with the Atlanta Thrashers as a free agent for the final two seasons of his career, where he was again a team captain both seasons, before retiring after 21 seasons, 1431 games, 364 goals and 476 assists for 840 points and 1 rat.
Today's featured jersey is a 1995-96 Florida Panthers Scott Mellanby jersey. The lettering specification for the jerseys from 1993-94 to 1997-98 was one color straight lettering for the names, which was later changed to three color, vertically arched lettering from 1998-99 through 2005-06 on the white jerseys (and two color letters on the red and blue jerseys) after the departure of Vanbiesbrouck and his extended surname which apparently allowed the Panthers design department more freedom with the lettering style of the jerseys!
Today's video highlight is a look at Game 4 of the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals as the Panthers gamely stave to fight off elimination.
Here come the Rats! Highlights from the Panthers vs. Bruins Game 1 They don't go out of their way to show the rats, but by this point in the season the excessive amount of rats had become an issue with the disruption they were causing to the games.