Florida Panthers in the playoffs, how could that be exciting?
A team stuck in the middle of a city where people worry more about the ice in their drink than the ice in the arena.
Allow me to elaborate.
When you think of the Florida Panthers and the playoffs, what comes to mind?
In 1996 the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Finals to face the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avalanche swept the Panthers in four games, but that wasn't the big story, it was the fact that the entire state of Florida was talking about them and all because of a rat.
On Oct. 8, 1996, opening night of the regular season, Florida winger, Scott Mellanby, killed a rat with his stick in the dressing room just minutes before the game started.
Mellanby went on to score two goals that game and the dawn of the rats had begun.
Things didn't get crazy until the playoffs began though.
One fan threw a toy rat on the ice after a goal, then the next goal more fans threw rats, until finally after every goal thousands of toy rats were being thrown. I say thousands, because it was said by the staff who cleaned them up that there were an average of 3,000 rats per night collected.
That's a lot of rats.
No one will ever forget the image of Patrick Roy fishing the puck out of his net as a cloud of black rats rained from the roaring fans above.
Obviously I’m not just saying the only reason the Panthers would be great to have in the playoffs is, because of a once-loved rat ritual; there's much more to like.
They have some great young talent in Nathan Norton, Stephen Weiss and Jay Bouwmeester among others, and solid goaltending from Thomas Vokoun in the net.
The Panthers are the type of team that can sneak up on you, get a few quick goals and then lull the game to sleep with great defensive play. Fitting to their team name, sneak up, pounce and devour, but ever since that Stanley Cup run in 1996 the Panthers haven't been roaring too loudly.
Getting back to the playoffs this year would once again bring the hockey fans in Florida to life.
Now, the rat riot probably wouldn't fly with Gary Bettman these days.
This is the commissioner who, last year, banned the head of ice management of the Detroit Red Wings, Al Sabotka, from waving the octopus around his head once he retrieved from the ice.
Then he started fining fans for throwing octopi on the ice.
So, the thought of thousands of rats being whipped at the players would hardly impress the little man in charge, but the fans weren't supposed to do it in '96 either and somehow they managed to prevail.
Yes, rat throwing was banned after that '96 season, because of the delay to clean up, but come on, it's not like they're hurling chants of "sloppy seconds" on to the ice.
The Panthers sit in eighth place in the east right now, only one point ahead of the teams breathing down their necks.
In order for them to squeak in, rat-like, they'll need to keep up the consistent play.
Here's a public service announcement to the fans of the Florida Panthers: If they make the playoffs, be the first to throw a rat after a goal, please. It only took one the first time!
Whatever you do, just make sure hockey in Florida is once again something for people to be excited about, because of the passion of the fans in 1996—people loved watching Panther games and that could certainly happen again this year.
If there are rats flying after every goal this year, there won't be one hockey fan willing to miss a game!