|Mike Hough (Getty Images) |
Not everyone who meets Mike Hough realizes he spent 13 years in the NHL. But when they find out four of those years were spent with the Panthers, Hough says he’s invariably asked the same question.
“Were you on the rat team?”
Hough, who lives outside Toronto and works for Research In Motion, manufacturers of the Blackberry, said he has fond memories of the team that, while being showered by toy rats from Panther fans, went to the 1996 Stanley Cup finals.
“It was one of those unique moments in hockey and, really, in all of sports,” recalled Hough, who will attend the July 27-28 ‘Year of the Rat’ reunion and alumni game at BankAtlantic Center. “Not everyone remembers me playing hockey, but everyone knows the year of the rat.”
Hough, a native of Montreal, was selected by the Panthers in the ’93 Expansion Draft when he was left unprotected by the Quebec Nordiques, where he served as team captain. Hough, along with Brian Skrudland, Gord Murphy, Terry Carkner and Dave Lowry, allowed the Panthers to skate a solid core while they tutored the likes of Rob Niedermayer, Ed Jovanovski
, Rhett Warrener and Radek Dvorak.
“It was the one team I was on where everyone was on the same page,” Hough recalled. “It was just really cool the way everything worked out. We were dispensable players who just jelled and rode a hot goalie (John Vanbiesbrouck). And we all contributed. You think of the job (Robert) Svehla and Carkner did against the top players from other teams. We knew we weren’t going to win 9-8 because we were a low-scoring team, but we were disciplined.
“I think (former coach) Roger Neilson deserves so much credit. He put such a great foundation in us the way he coached for two years. And then when (coach) Doug (MacLean) came in he opened the door offensively for guys.”
Hough, a checking forward and penalty killer, scored four goals during the ’96 playoffs. His biggest came during the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Flyers when he scored in the second overtime to give the Panthers a 3-2 advantage in the series.
Hough spent the 1996-97 season with the Panthers before signing with the Islanders as a free agent in July of 1997. After retiring in 1999, Hough turned down an offer to scout and returned to school for an economics degree.
“I had gone to school during the summers when I was on Long Island and Florida, including Florida Atlantic (University) for three years,” Hough recalled. “When I retired I had to go to the University of Toronto because I had so many transfer credits. It was tough being a 37-year-old sitting in a classroom with kids 18 and 19. But it worked out well.”
Hough, who plays 3-on-3 hockey twice a week near his home, said he’s looking forward to coming back to South Florida to see his former teammates. “I’ve stayed in touch with Tom (Fitzgerald) but I’m anxious to see the other guys to see who’s married and how much weight they’ve gained.”