(This month, Puck Daddy asked bloggers for every NHL team to tell us The Essentials for their franchises — everything from the defining player and trade, to the indispensable fan traditions. Here’s Frank Rekas of The Rat Trick, giving us The Essentials for the Florida Panthers.)
By Frank Rekas
Player: Scott Mellanby
While many fans might want to choose Roberto Luongo, Stephen Weiss or even Olli Jokinen, I don’t think that many people realize how important Scott Mellanby was to the Florida Panthers. Playing for eight seasons with the Panthers, Mellanby was the perfect example of the type of player this team was built on back when he played, and the type of player that GM Dale Tallon is trying to assemble the team with now.
And, of course, we can’t forget the whole rat trick incident can we?
For me, as I’m sure most Florida Panther fans, the season has to be the 1995-1996 year, as the upstart and hard working team went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. It was a fantastic season that saw a lunch bucket crew lead by a number of veteran players with just the right amount of character and experience. Despite getting swept by the Colorado Avalanche, it would leave every Panther fan proud. For years to come.
Game: May 14, 1996
The Panthers upset the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 to win the Eastern Conference semifinals four games to two. Right then and there, we knew that the playoff run wasn’t just some dream run by a team playing over their heads. The Panthers proved by beating the Flyers and Eric Lindros that they were for real, which the Pittsburgh Penguins found out next.
Goal: Bill Lindsay
There haven’t been that many defining goals in the team’s history that come to mind, however, the one scored by winger Bill Lindsay against the Boston Bruins in the ’96 playoffs was one of the most amazing you’ll ever see. His first ever playoff series, as well as the first for the Panthers, will likely be remembered for catapulting them the rest of the way.
Trade: Brian Campbell
A very difficult choice here, and if we’re looking for a trade that was positive, it came down to two.
Granted, the trade to acquire Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen from the New York Islanders was brilliant, but it was Dale Tallon’s ability to persuade Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman to trade defenseman Brian Campbell to the Panthers for an overpaid and oft-injured forward Rostislav Olesz.
As a Hawk fan as well, I know many Chicagoans complained about Soupy’s salary, but last season not a single Panther fan cared, and many Hawk fans wish he was still gracefully skating along the blue line. Campbell could very well have been solely responsible for Jason Garrison’s breakout season.
Unsung Hero: Dave Lowry
A difficult choice, but I have to go with Dave Lowry because of his playoff performance in ’96. He scored 10 goals and had 7 assists in 22 post season games. It seemed like every goal came exactly when the Panthers needed it most.
Franchise Villain: Daniel Alfredsson
Forget Mike Richards. That was one play in one game. Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators has caused more damage against the Panthers than any other player I can think of. In 54 career games against the Panthers, Alfie has 25 goals and 30 assists for 55 points. His magic touch against Florida started in his very first NHL game, when he scored his first NHL goal.
Fight: Erik Gudbranson vs. Steve Downie
While Paul Laus and Peter Worrell had some great battles, I’m going with the fight between Erik Gudbranson and Steve Downie that occurred at the Panthers home opener this past season. This fight, which would be the first of many for Erik in his rookie year, sets the tone for the tough guy image that is part of his persona. And for me, it was kinda cool to have his parents sitting in the row in front of me, with Erik’s mom covering her eyes with her hands.
Coach: Doug MacLean
So much of this analysis points to the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final; that Doug MacLean the first year coach who guided them there, gets my vote here. Pushing all the right buttons, MacLean deserved a better fate, as he only lasted another 105 games behind the bench, getting fired in 1997-98 after 23 games. He was likeable, animated, and emotional, but somehow fell victim to the pressure to win.
Prior to Kevin Dineen, no coach had done for this franchise what Doug did. Many tried, but all were unsuccessful for various reasons. Doug is one of the few ex-Panther coaches that would be welcomed back with open arms.
Broadcaster: Randy Moeller
Randy Moeller the Panthers radio broadcaster who has become famous with his goal calls gets the nod here. Many of his calls are suggested by fans, and while some are repeated, you’re always smiling, especially when he says, “Top shelf, where grandma keeps the cookies.” And of course there’s always the good old, “Winner winner, chicken dinner.”
Colorful, knowledgeable, Randy is the voice of the Florida Panthers.
The tradition that drew the most attention over the years, and has finally made its way back, is the throwing of the rats on the ice after home games have been won. During that ’96 playoff run, often times the rats were tossed after goals were scored, which became a bit of a nuisance for the opposition; but now, I think we’ve nailed it as rats are tossed only after home wins.
I’ve always like the chicken tenders with fries. With either BBQ or honey mustard sauce, this meal fills you up. If you’re a French fry lover and you get your order fresh out of the oven, there’s nothing that can beat it. Of course the drink of choice to make this meal complete is a tall Molson Canadian, which made its way back to the Bank Atlantic Center last season.
Swag (jersey, hat, shirt, gear, etc.)
The return last season of the red home sweater defines the Florida Panthers. From their inaugural season, that color of red was synonymous with the Panthers. Why they ever shifted to the blue I’ll never understand, but thankfully the team came back to their senses. For the most part, everything you have in your Panther goodie box at home should be red. The slogan for this year is “Red Rising,” as the Panthers continue their resurgence to respectability, and another playoff appearance.
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The Essentials: Florida Panthers Edition