Dave Lowry will forever be linked to the ‘Year of the Rat.’
And country music star Garth Brooks.
Lowry, a 6-1 left winger known for his relentless forechecking during the Panthers’ magical run to the Stanley Cup Finals, presented a Panther jersey to the country star before Brooks played a string of performances at the Miami Arena during the team’s opening-round playoff match against the Bruins.
“I remember I went to his press conference and the city of Miami was giving him all these expensive gifts and the Marlins gave him some nice stuff and I gave him my jersey,” recalled Lowry, who is an assistant coach with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. “I’m thinking, ‘Fat chance he’s ever going to wear this.’ But he wore the jersey for a whole show at the Arena.”
The night after Brooks wore Lowry’s jersey, the man they called ‘Pie’ scored a goal. For the remainder of the playoffs, Lowry would leave Brooks’ name on the pass list before each game for good luck.
During the ’96 playoffs, Lowry matched his regular-season total by scoring 10 goals, including two game winners and a total of 17 points. Lowry scored three goals in the opening round of the playoffs and added four goals in helping the Panthers beat Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“Things just happened that year, they clicked,” said Lowry, who will attend the ‘Year of the Rat’ reunion July 27-28 at BankAtlantic Center and will be present when the Panthers unveil their new jerseys. “That whole group accomplished quite a bit.”
Lowry, selected by the Panthers in the ’93 Expansion Draft, had spent eight years in the NHL (Vancouver and St. Louis) before arriving in South Florida. After 4 ½ years in Florida, Lowry played seven more years in the NHL with San Jose and Calgary. He made it back to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003-04 with the Flames.
“I was fortunate when I left Florida,” Lowry said. “(Coach) Darryl Sutter took pretty good care of me when I was in San Jose and then when he came to Calgary. He put a lot of trust in me.”
Lowry said one of the secrets to the Panthers success was Roger Neilson, who was replaced by Doug MacLean prior to the 1995-96 season.
“Roger fought when he was fired to keep the core group together,” Lowry said. “Unfortunately, he wasn’t there to reap the benefits, but Roger had a big vision of what we could be. I know when (GM) Bryan Murray came in he wanted to make changes, but Roger fought hard. He told him, ‘You don’t know what you have here. If you keep them together you’ll have something special.’ ”
Lowry, who works with the Hitmen’s defensemen, said he would like to continue coaching and one day move from being an assistant to a head coach. “But I don’t want to make a move sideways,” he said. “I want to be patient and look at the longterm.”
In Lowry’s immediate future: A trip to South Florida and a chance to reunite with his teammates from the ’96 Panthers. When asked if he has any plastic rats from the ’96 season, Lowry replied with a laugh; “I know somewhere in the house there’s a couple of them.”