Before their 1995 home opener, a rat entered the Panthers locker room—and was promptly killed with a slapshot by Scott Mellanby. The legend took hold, and as Florida made a finals run, the "rat trick" was born. After Panthers goals and wins, fans would throw hundreds of rubber rats onto the ice.
It's 16 years later, and the Panthers have been mostly terrible since then, but a miracle division title and a 3-2 series lead over New Jersey has brought the magic back. The rats have again been raining down from the BankAtlantic Center stands.
The team has capitalized, selling the rats in the team shop for $5 apiece. Marty Brodeur hasn't been thrilled:
"This, it's a pain. Even if you look at the reaction of some of the Panthers' players, some of them are kind of shaking their heads about it. Just for the NHL to let them give out rats, come on. That's unbelievable."
But the reign of the rats may be at an end. Play was briefly halted late in game 5, as some rats made an appearance before a third period faceoff. The PA announcer was forced to warn the crowd that the home team could face a delay of game penalty, and today the Panthers announced they will no longer sell the rats at the arena. Just a case of overeager fans not acting like they've been here before (and for this generation of Panthers fans, they haven't), but a curious thing has happened. The Panthers seem to have made an organization-wide decision to blame visiting Devils fans for the mistimed rodents.
"I am a little concerned about the rats," said head coach Kevin Dineen. "I know there are a lot of Devils fans throwing them out there.'' Team president Michael Yormark, in announcing the ban on rat sales, explained that "this is a result of visiting fans throwing rats on the ice during the game." The Miami Herald's Panthers beat writer also blames Devils fans for throwing the rats that caught the league's attention.
This is insane and cowardly. If the message board chatter is true, and a fan in a Devils jersey was ejected from the game for throwing a rat, it doesn't come near to explaining the tens of other rats that made their way onto the ice during gameplay. Tom Gulitti, the Record's Devils beat writer, is going off on Twitter right now, and he's right. You can't hand out thousands of rats, then when some of them are thrown at the wrong time, say it was visiting fans and only visiting fans. The Panthers most likely got a phone call from the league office, were told to stop, and to save face in front of their fans chose to put the blame on anyone but themselves.
This is the Panthers' tradition, their only one, and they're trying to not look like the bad guys in putting a halt to it. But don't go claiming Florida fans are perfect saints, and it's those nefarious Jerseyites running a false flag operation. Own up to your own rat problem.