Cats' conversion on ice unleashes rat fever

FLORIDA DAYS

Ice in Florida? Well, there's the the crushed stuff they serve in the local "rum runner" cocktail of Bacardi and fruit punch. But the closest Florida gets to snow is the annual winter influx of "snowbirds" - ageing, rheumatic New Yorkers who like the idea of a swim or a round of golf in February.

So why is the Sunshine State going through a serious bout of ice mania? Because the Florida Panthers, an ice-hockey side only three years old, is in the Stanley Cup finals, that's why. To the uninitiated, that's the ice hockey equivalent of football's World Cup. And it's long been dominated by teams from Canada or the chilly northern United States.

Actually, it's not so much ice-hockey mania, since few Floridians had the foggiest idea what the sport was all about until recently. It's more a case of what the locals call "rat fever". Or maybe just a perfect excuse to feel good and party.

The Panthers, founded in sun-scorched Miami in 1993 to the smirks of the rest of the ice hockey-playing world, began with the obvious logo - a panther, printed on their jerseys and their goaltender's helmet. They were known as "the Cats".

The team was widely seen as a bunch of cast-offs, poorly paid and known in the sport as "muckers" rather than "finesse" players. That is, until a funny thing happened to one of them in the Miami Arena dressing room last October before the first home game of this season.

Right-winger Scott Mellanby found a rat in his locker room and whacked it stone-dead with his stick. He went on to whack in two goals in the game, billed by his teammates as a "rat-trick". The Cats immediately got a new nickname - the Rats - and went from strength to strength.

When they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins to reach the Stanley Cup finals, some critics suggested it may not have been down so much to their skill as the psychological impact of hundreds of rats tossed onto the ice by Florida fans during breaks in play. The black rats were plastic but it must have been unnerving for the Penguins. Pittsburgh goaltender Tom Barasso took cover under his net.

Floridians who had long switched between the Dolphins American football team in winter and the Marlins baseball side in summer were consumed by "rat fever". Pizza Hut had to hire three times as many delivery drivers during Panthers' games. The Publix supermarket chain sold out of rat-shaped cakes as fast as they could bake them.

The Dan Marino's bar, named after its Dolphins' football player owner, was inundated with demand for its new drink, the Ratshooter (Jaegermeister schnapps with peppermint).

As surprised as anyone else by the Panthers' success, the Miami Herald newspaper decided on the opening day of the Stanley Cup finals this week to explain what ice hockey was all about. "The primary objective of the game is to score goals while preventing your opponent from doing the same," it explained in a special pull-out guide.

The Panthers' owner, Wayne Huizenga, showed up at matches with a real- looking white rat on the lapel of his blazer. He calls his wife Marti, who wears a gold necklace with the word RATS in large letters, "the Rat Lady". With temperatures of more than 27C and high humidity outside, Mr Huizenga's main problem is keeping the ice from melting in the Arena.

When the team qualified for the Stanley Cup finals, Florida shops and bars ran out of the black plastic rats that had been making them a fortune. Orders went out throughout the United States and were shipped in to allow fans to toss them at giant television screens in packed bars.

For the first two Stanley Cup final games this week the "Rats" were away to the Colorado Avalanche in Denver and may have met their match. Not only did they lose the first two games - crushed by 8-1 in the second - but the Denver fans tossed rat-traps on to the ice in defiance.

But the Floridians are still hoping against hope that this could be the Year of the Rat.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?