Out of nowhere, little plastic rats landed on Florida Panthers ice at Sunrise earlier this week at the end of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Well seated in front of his television, Brian Skrudland had a thought for the good old days.

The good old days in this case were the spring of 1996, when Skrudland and his Panthers teammates made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, as the current Panthers are about to do.

It was there, during the 1995-96 season, that plastic rats first arrived in Florida, after a real rat died in the club’s old locker room.

“You have to give Scott Mellanby all the credit for that,” Skrudland recalled at the end of the handset. The story of the rats, really, it started at the start of the season. It was before a game at Miami Arena, we were getting ready in the locker room, and at one point there was swearing, guys running left and right, guys standing on the benches …”

This movement of panic had been caused by a rat, a real one, which had then burst into the Panthers locker room, in this arena from another era not necessarily known for its cleanliness.

“Then the rat went past Scott who already had his stick on the floor, chasing Skrudland, and then Scott used the rat to make a one-timer. The rat crashed into a locker room wall, and our caretaker made him a little funeral sign, with a RIP on it…”

The rat didn’t survive, unfortunately, but it was that night that the legend was born, “because Scott went and scored two goals in the game,” says Skrudland, who hasn’t forgotten anything about this epic.

Now, 27 years later, the ex-striker, who was also part of the 1986 conquest with the Canadian, does not miss a single game for the Panthers, a club that allows him to remember very good memories.

“Because there are quite a few similarities between them and us in 1996…starting with the keeper. The Panthers have a very good goalkeeper and we also had a very good goalkeeper in John Vanbiesbrouck, without whom we could never have reached the final. There is also the ardor of youth; the Panthers have very good young players, and we were also able to bet on the energy of the youngest, among others Ed Jovanovski and Rhett Warrener.

“Finally, I believe the Panthers can count on good veterans, like us at the time. I remember when it was time to start the 1986 playoffs with the Canadiens, Bob Gainey called us all together to explain how suddenly everything got bigger in the playoffs: the stakes, the intensity, the media coverage, everything. , and he had insisted on the importance of not getting too lost, of concentrating only on the present moment. This is exactly the message I tried to convey to the youngest in 1996.”

Brian Skrudland will still be in front of his screen when the final is about to begin and the Panthers will be there, for the first time since 1996. Previously, the result had not been favorable to them since Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche had won quickly.

All these years later, Skrudland hasn’t forgotten anything… especially not the rats.

“I still see the opposing goalies hiding in the net when people were throwing rats…I’ll never forget that!” »