While every sport has its fair share of traditions, hockey takes things to another level. Trophies are named after historical figures, for example, and can’t be touched under most circumstances. Individual teams then add their own culture to the mix, like the Florida Panthers. The Sunrise-based club celebrates wins in a unique way: showering the ice with rubber rats.
Although that may seem completely unrelated to hockey, the tradition does have real-life roots. In fact, the Panthers celebrated a real-life “rat trick” in 1995. Since then, rodents have been a fundamental part of a Florida game.
Why do the Florida Panthers have a rat mascot and throw rubber rats on the ice?
Most traditions, no matter how bizarre they may seem, can be traced back to a single historical event. The Florida Panthers’ relationship with rats is no exception to that rule.
The story began in the 1995 NHL season when the team was preparing to take the ice for the home opener. As recorded in an old Miami Herald story, a rat ran across the locker room floor. Scott Mellanby picked up his stick and shot the rodent into the wall, killing it. He went on to score two goals with that same stick, leading goalie John Vanbiesbrouck to quip that he had scored a “rat trick.”
That comment took on a life of its own, and, through a touch of serendipity, 1996 was also the Year of the Rat in the Chinese Zodiac. As the Panthers played out the regular season and made an unprecedented run to the Stanley Cup Finals, their fans celebrated goals and victories by tossing rubber rats onto the ice.
Although things have changed a bit over the years — NHL rules now say that throwing objects onto the ice, other than hats to honor a hat trick, can result in a delay of game penalty, which limits rat appearances to after the final horn of a victory — those rubber rodents are still a part of Panthers’ hockey. The team even has a secondary mascot, Viktor E. Rat, whose very existence alludes to the events of the 1995-96 season.
This year’s Florida Panthers have a chance to leave a mark in NHL history
While those “rat trick” Panthers weren’t able to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup — they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche — they still captured the hearts and minds of local hockey fans. With all due respect to that squad, though, the current version of the team could take things even further.
This season, Florida claimed the Presidents’ Trophy with the best regular-season record in the NHL. While that honor doesn’t always translate into postseason success, the Panthers do seem to have what it takes to go the distance. They’re a phenomenal five-on-five team, which helps when playoff referees forget what constitutes a penalty, and can fill up the box score every night. The club’s defense is solid, if unremarkable, and, while he’s not exactly the goalie he once was, Sergei Bobrovsky is still a capable netminder.
While it’s unclear if the team can simply score their way to the Stanley Cup, given how coaches prioritize tight defense during the playoffs, there’s no reason to start doubting the Panthers now. Lifting the ultimate prize is famously tough, but putting the puck in the back of the net can solve plenty of problems.
Regardless of how the campaign ends, though, Panthers fans have plenty to be proud of. Don’t be surprised to see a few rats hitting the ice in appreciation, even if the team falls short of the ultimate prize.