Sit down, PETA…they’re not real rats.
The Florida Panthers handed out 10,000 rubber rats prior to their game against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night, a giveaway that honored the 20th anniversary of the 1996 Florida Panthers team that reached the Stanley Cup Final.
If you’re confused about the connection, here’s a history lesson:
The rat trick is a celebration popularized by fans of the Florida Panthers of the National Hockey League (NHL) during their 1995–96 season and trip to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals. The term, a play on hat trick, was coined by Panthers goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck after teammate Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the locker room prior to the team’s home opener with his stick, then scored two goals with the same stick.
Fans immediately picked up on the idea and began throwing plastic rats on the ice to celebrate goals. By the time the Panthers reached the 1996 playoffs, thousands of rats hit the ice after every Panthers goal, resulting in an off-season rule change by the NHL that allowed for referees to penalize the home team if fans disrupt the game by throwing objects onto the ice.
Well, as the Panthers learned on Friday night, that rule that allows referees to penalize the home team still exists, as Florida was given TWO delay of game penalties when many of the rubber rats given away landed on the ice after Panthers goals. Officials did issue a warning on the first goal, but that didn’t stop Panthers fans from celebrating the team’s two goals in the third period with more rat showers.
It’s tough to pick a side on this one — obviously you don’t want fans throwing crap on the ice after every single goal because that stuff takes time and manpower to clean up, which disrupts the flow of the game. But at the same time, I can’t blame Panthers fans for just going for it anyway, especially because it was a cool way to pay tribute to the team’s history while celebrating their current (overdue) success.
Thankfully for the fans, the Devils only managed to score on one of the ensuing power plays late in the game, and the Panthers were able to hold off the Devils for a 3-2 victory. Does this increase our chances of seeing the occasional rat trick when the Panthers make it back to the playoffs in a few weeks? Let’s hope so.