Sports

Revisiting the Tale of How Plastic Rats Became Forever Linked to the Florida Panthers

A real rat. A real cute rat. A real, cute rat!
A real rat. A real cute rat. A real, cute rat! Photo by Alexey Krasavin via Flickr
For a quarter of a century, a plastic rat has been the universal symbol of success for the Florida Panthers.

Explaining that sentence to someone who's not completely familiar with the history of the Florida Panthers might be quite the task, so as the team is on the precipice of their first-round NHL playoff matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning, we thought this would be a good time to revisit the tale to get everyone up to speed.

The legend of how Florida Panthers right winger Scott Mellanby killed a rat with his stick in the locker room prior to the team's 1995-'96 season home opener has stood the test of time. But how did it all go down? Let's take a look back at one of the greatest stories in South Florida sports history.
Mellanby reportedly "shot the rat across the room with his stick," scaring the shit out of teammates. Back in 1995, the Panthers played in the "Pink Elephant" Miami Arena — a facility that, at the time, had seen better days. Anyone who ever attended a game there wouldn't be at all surprised to learn vermin were on the loose, getting fat on concession-stand food and using the Panthers weight room to get swoll after hours.

The way his teammates tell it, it was classic Scott Mellanby for him to be the only Panther who didn't run for it when what players described as a "well-fed" rat came running toward the squad as it prepared to take the ice.


On this day, the infamous rat that started it all stepped to the wrong man. Mellanby had to make an example of him. Notice how there is only one of the Panthers rat story? No further rats wanted the Mellanby smoke. Game over for the rats.

According to Mellanby, he was "acting in defense" when he stood his ground and one-timed the furry beast against a wall. His teammates tell the story a different way: Mellanby was not in danger. He was the danger at the rat's door. He is the one who knocks.
Minutes later, Mellanby used the same stick to score two goals. Mellanby has said that as he skated onto the ice, he looked down at his stick and saw rat fur on the black tape near the blade.

RAT FUR WAS STILL ON HIS STICK.

A lot of things happened in the '90s that wouldn't fly in 2021 — like the problematic Rodney Dangerfield movie Ladybugs, or wearing all-denim outfits — but it's hard to fathom a hockey player in this day and age murdering a rat with his stick, then minutes later, taking the same stick, covered in rat parts, out onto the ice like his parents dropped him off at the rink and it was the only one he owned.

This is an extremely mid-'90s thing to have happened.

Goalie John Vanbiesbrouck called Mellanby's odd day "The Rat Trick." After the game, "Beezer" dubbed Mellanby's two-goal day the "Rat Trick." He told the media the story. It blew up. It took a lot to go viral in 1995. We didn't even have AOL accounts yet. But this story achieved it.

It's too bad this happened in 1995, because if he came up with that in 2021 the Panthers would have sold 50,000 shirts and even more rat-dressed-as-magician Rat Trick bobbleheads.

There are layers to this story. "Rat Trick" only adds to the lore.
During the next game, a fan threw a plastic rat onto the ice. Somewhere among us, there is a legendary Florida Panthers fan who started all this, who heard what had happened, stuffed a rat in his pocket, and had the balls to throw it on the ice when the Panthers scored in the next game.

Only in hockey could something like this happen. Imagine if this same person tried this at a Miami Heat game after Glen Rice nailed a three-pointer. The entire game would have stopped. He would have been ejected at best, arrested at worst. News outlets would have pointed to it as proof security is too loose.

Instead, a legend is born.
One rat turned into hundreds of rats because the Panthers were good. As if they had bred, one rebel Panthers fan's rat turned into a multitude of rats. In every game, progressively more rats hit the ice after a Panthers goal. It went from a one-time cute thing to a thing thing.

Stores all across Miami and South Florida started selling out of plastic rats — because why would they carry a surplus of those things — and it became clear the rats were here to stay.
Very woke people realized this was all coinciding with the Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac. The Chinese zodiac uses a 12-year-cycle of animals. In 1996, it was the Year of the Rat. As one might imagine, some Panthers fans took note — and took it as a sign.

A side note: 2020 was the Year of the Rat. This current Panthers season started in 2020. It has been their best season ever. Do with that information what you please.
The rats got out of hand, and the Panthers brought Orkin on board as a sponsor. When the playoffs rolled around, the rat situation got so bad/good that the Panthers took on Orkin Pest Control as a sponsor and hired a fleet of men dressed in pest-control suits — up to 50 for some games — to sweep rats into buckets after Panthers goals. Goalies had to turtle inside their own net so they weren't pelted with rats.

This is a real thing that happened! It was allowed!

Until it wasn't.

As one might imagine, the NHL was not a big fan of the rat delays. A five-minute stoppage of play to clean up rats is funny five times; the 15th time in the middle of the Eastern Conference Finals, not so much.
The NHL banned in-game rats. That was that. After the Panthers lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL Finals, the NHL stepped in during the offseason and said enough was enough. No more rats on their watch. The fun was over.

The Panthers weren't exactly world-beaters in the years to follow, so the rats wouldn't have come out too often anyway. For years, the rats were a memory everyone talked about but rarely saw.
Return of the Rat! The year is 2012. The first Hunger Games movie is released in theaters. The song "Gangnam Style" is stuck in your head. And rats are back at Florida Panthers games. What a time to be alive.

Rats began to reappear after Panthers wins at the BB&T in Sunrise, where they currently skate. It was a nice throwback to the past that fans enjoyed. UNTIL...
No, no! Bad Panthers fans! Not now with the rats! As with most things in life, this is why we can't have nice things. Panthers fans — or not-Panthers fans? —  ignored pleas to only throw rats after wins. What did the Panthers think would happen when they sold them in the gift shop at the arena?

You cannot sell beer next to plastic rats that are meant to be thrown on the ice and expect people to follow the rules!

It's a conspi-rat-cy! Fans of Panthers opponents start throwing imposter rats! The call is coming from inside the house! As it turns out, it may not have been Panthers fans sabotaging a good time. Many believe fans of opposing teams, knowing full well that throwing rats on the ice would result in a penalty for the Panthers, started throwing imposter rats on the ice in an effort to flip the script.

Can't a hockey team just have a tradition of throwing plastic vermin on the ice without New Jersey Devils fans ruining it for everyone? Was this country not founded on this exact premise?! Sad.
The rats remain. Fast-forward to the present-day Florida Panthers. The rats are back. Only after games, however. They're still frowned upon during games. So far, there haven't been any opposing-team fans' shenanigans on the imposter-rats front. The playoffs could change that, of course.

So as you watch the Panthers march to the Stanley Cup over the next month, remember not to turn off the game too early if you're watching at home. And if you're going in person, don't forget to throw a rat on the ice after the game if the home team wins. It's tradition.
KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ryan Yousefi is a freelance writer for Miami New Times, a lover of sports, and an expert consumer of craft beer and pho. Hanley Ramirez once stole a baseball from him and to this day still owes him $10.
Contact: Ryan Yousefi