They were big and small, rubber and plastic. Some simply squeaked while others were dressed in uniforms…so intricately tweaked.
The Panthers took the sports world by storm in 1996 when they went to the Stanley Cup Finals while being showered each night by toy rats. It was magical. It was bizarre.
It was Seussian.
Former Panther Paul Laus described the season as “surreal.” Star goalie John Vanbiesbrouck remembers it as a “cherished time.”
And now for the first time the 1996 Panthers are reuniting for a very special weekend here in South Florida and BankAtlantic Center.
Vanbiesbrouck, Laus, Scott Mellanby, Billy Lindsay, Ray Sheppard, Gord Murphy, Ed Jovanovski
, Terry Carkner and Geoff Smith are just some of the former Panthers who will attend the ’96 Panthers Reunion scheduled for July 26-29.
Presented by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the reunion will include an Alumni Hockey Game July 28 at BankAtlantic Center. The game will be part of an Open House that will include family activities, games, autograph sessions, and a scrimmage between the ’96 Panthers and other Panther alumni from the past 13 seasons.
Tickets are $5 for the alumni game. But lucky Panther fans can get free tickets now by calling (954) 835-PUCK……Fans interested in purchasing seats along the glass can call 954-835-PUCK.
The story of the ’96 Panthers begins in October of 1995 when Mellanby one-timed a rat into rodent heaven before a home game at the Miami Arena after the furry creature found his way into the Panther’ locker room. Some three hours later, after Mellanby scored two goals to help the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over Calgary, Vanbiesbrouck credited Mellanby with scoring the “Rat Trick.”
And the Year of the Rat was born.
After each Panther goal the remainder of the season, fans would shower the ice with toy rats. There were only a few thrown onto the ice at the beginning. Then a dozen, a hundred, a thousand, and then a blizzard of creatures raining down as opposing goaltenders took cover inside their own goal.
Toy stores ran out of rats. Scalpers not only sold tickets outside the Miami Arena but toy rats.
“Six dollars for one rat,” Laus recalled. “I remember people telling me they were asking relatives to ship them rats from out of town.”
The Panthers were led by a mixture of veterans like Vanbiesbrouck, Mellanby, Brian Skrudland, Dave Lowry and Mike Hough and younger players like Jovanovski, Rhett Warrener and Rob Niedermayer. They defeated the Bruins in the quarterfinals, Flyers in semifinals and then Mario Lemieux in the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals to win the Prince of Wales Trophy and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The alumni game, along with other weekend activities including a golf tournament and welcome reception, will raise funds to support Florida Panthers Alumni Association, which is dedicated to developing Youth Hockey Travel opportunities.