During the 1995-96 hockey season, South Florida was over-run by rats.
Rather than scurry in fear and call an exterminator, however, the fans got louder and louder with every rat sighting.
That season was the high-water mark in Florida Panthers history, and the Year of the Rat marked the team's only journey to the Stanley Cup Final. The season featured the birth of the "rat trick," when Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the team's locker room at Miami Arena prior to the home opener and then scored 2 goals in the game.
Fans would litter the ice with plastic rats every time the Panthers scored, and they rode their rats all the way to the League's championship series.
Fifteen years later, two of those rat-tossing fans are ready to start their journey toward helping a team reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Adam Lowry and Connor Murphy were 3 years old when their fathers, Dave Lowry and Gord Murphy, were playing major roles for the Panthers on their Final run. Left wing Dave Lowry was the surprise team-leader in scoring with 10 goals and 17 points, while Gord Murphy, a defenseman, played just five games but had 5 assists.
While Adam and Connor were a bit young to come to every game, they did watch on TV.
"They had a pretty good grasp of what was going on," Dave Lowry told NHL.com. "Whenever they couldn't come to the games, they'd be throwing (rats) at the TV."
Adam Lowry told NHL.com he can vividly remember tossing plastic rats around his living room on game nights.
"I remember my mom used to not want to take us to the games and we'd have the games on TV," he said, "and when they were on the road we'd have a pile of rats my dad brought home from the rink so every time they scored we'd throw them at the TV."
Lowry and Murphy both said they were inundated with rats.
"We had bags of them," said Lowry. "They were all over the place. Then you had people that were painting rats up in Panther colors and sending them to you. It was pretty crazy. Before you knew you had a nice large connection."
Adam Lowry told NHL.com he's sure there still are a few rats hiding around his home.
"I think we still have a few rats kicking around in our toy box somewhere," he said. "I'm sure I could still find them if I look."
Murphy said he finally drew the line and tossed all the rats, allowing each of his three kids to keep one as a memento.
"I actually have one in my room," Connor Murphy told NHL.com, "sitting up on my memorabilia shelf."
At the rate Connor and Adam are going, they both might have some more treasures to find shelf space for.
Murphy, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound defenseman, played just 14 games for the U.S. National Team Development Program due to a back injury that sidelined him for most of the season. However, he was healthy for the World Under-18 Championship, and scored a pair of goals in the gold-medal game, including the overtime winner that allowed the U.S. to win its third straight gold medal. He's No. 25 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2011 Entry Draft.
"The most impressive thing for me about Connor Murphy was no matter if he played on an Olympic-size rink or the smaller (North American) ice surface, he had so much poise, patience and confidence," NHL Central Scouting's Jack Barzee told NHL.com. "He was able to take control of high-pressure situations without any lack of any one of those three ingredients. I'm thinking to myself, 'This kid has missed so much hockey, but he's still as good a player as I've seen all around this season.'"
Lowry, a 6-4, 186-pound left wing, had 18 goals and 27 assists in 66 games with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League. He's No. 58 on Central Scouting's list.
"Lowry improved and was more effective in the latter part of the season due to the fact that he had mono and maybe returned to play too soon," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "He does play a physical style and is strong on the puck in the corners. He can be effective on the forecheck. He's a big winger and sets up well in front of opposition net. He's a lot like his father in the fact that he establishes position in front of goal and looks for deflections. … I think you will see a much better player next year when he is healthy."
Now that they're old enough to appreciate that magical run, Connor Murphy and Adam Lowry say they enjoy watching the highlights. Rather than throw rats, though, it's good-natured insults that are tossed around.
"I see Mario Lemieux dangling a Panther (in the conference finals)," said Connor, "and I ask (Gord) if that's him, and he says no, never him."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK