This article was written for Cats On The Prowl by @turbuL3NtZ. Click here to follow him on Twitter.
The 2015-16 Season marks the 20 Year Anniversary of one of the most amazing times in South Florida sports history. I’m referring to the Florida Panthers’ remarkable run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that ultimately put them just 4 victories away from one of the most coveted trophy in all of sports.
On Saturday, March 12, as we all prepared to spring forward for Daylight Savings Time, the Florida Panthers were turning back the clock to 1996 by welcoming back several members of the team that captured our hearts and set the bar for every Panthers team that has followed.
Anyone who is a fan of the Florida Panthers is well aware of the events that occurred during the “Year of the Rat.” The experience ranges from those who saw the events unfold live, to the generation that has seen the game replays online, to the newcomers visiting the Panthers Den of Honor at the BB&T Center. These players have become part of the hockey lore in South Florida.
“I started going to see the Panthers in 1993 because my Canadian business partners made me buy season tickets I was hooked and took my son to some games. He got hooked and now he takes me to the game, VIP style.”
“[Meeting the players was] absolutely amazing. The players are total class acts. They posed for pictures, signed autographs, and just stayed and chatted with everyone. Brought back great memories of the Year of the Rat.”
– Randy Jordan, traveled from Jupiter with his son Connor, from Tallahassee, for the event
Season Seat Owners were invited to attend the reunion event prior to the Panthers’ game against the Philadelphia Flyers, a team that was dispatched by the Panthers in 6 games in the 1996 Eastern Conference Semifinals. As fans and players mingled and reminisced about 1996, you could feel the excitement and admiration in the room. Pictures were taken, autographs were signed, and stories were told. Fans were able to tell the players what that season had meant to them and the former Panthers described their favorite memory from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“The overtimes. Especially the games against Philly…the atmosphere in the locker room during intermission…it was so quiet, nobody said a word. You wanted to be the person that went out there and won the game.”
– Bill Lindsay, LW and current Radio analyst for the Panthers, on his favorite moment from the playoff run (Semifinals Game 4 OT, Game 5 2OT)
“The Rats. That was fun…and winning Game 7 in Pittsburgh.”
– Johan Garpenlov, LW (came from Sweden to attend the event), on his favorite moment
“Beating Pittsburgh in Game 7. The ride on the plane afterwards was crazy.”
– Mike Hough, LW, on his favorite moment
“I think beating Philly in Game 6 because [Eric] Lindros promised that they were coming back to Philly for Game 7.”
(Game 5 was the last game ever played in the Spectrum)
– Terry Carkner, D, on his favorite moment
“I enjoyed everything about the playoffs that year. But I will tell you that my favorite memory came the following season. We were in 1st place at Christmas, proving that the previous year (1996) was not a flash in the pan.”
– Brian Skrudland, C and Captain, on his favorite moment
As the festivities came to a close, the players made their way to their seats for the game. The crowd cheered as Beezer, Skrudland, and Mellanby dropped the puck at center ice and all the players in attendance received an ovation. The Panthers would go on to defeat the Flyers that night 5-4 in overtime amidst an atmosphere that had a noticeable playoff-type intensity to it.
The win would not have been earned without the hard work of players like Derek MacKenzie and Jussi Jokinen who put on a shot-blocking show as the Panthers killed off a penalty in the overtime period. MacKenzie played through the 3rd period and overtime with what turned out to be a small fracture in his right foot after blocking a shot at the end of the 2nd. The 1996 Panthers roster consisted of many players who brought a style of play similar to what Derek MacKenzie beings to the current team: a tough, hard-working, and determined style of play.
The 2015-16 Panthers became the fastest team in franchise history to reach the 80-point mark when they defeated the Winnipeg Jets by a score of 3-2 on March 1st, and there are many other similarities between the two teams such as solid goaltending, a mix a young and veteran players, and the same number of 20-goal scorers (4).
With the Stanley Cup Playoffs just on the horizon, there is anticipation in the air that this season’s roster is poised to repeat history and bring Cup Craziness back to South Florida.