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SUNRISE (CBSMiami) – One of the longest standing traditions for Florida Panthers fans is one of the strangest the NHL has ever seen.

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It has to do with plastic rats.

Since the Stanley Cup season in 1996, fans have littered the ice with rats following every win.

The story goes like this:

The date was October 8th, 1995.  The Panthers were preparing for their home opener against the Calgary Flames after dropping the season opener the day before in New Jersey.

While waiting to take the ice in the locker room, Panthers fan favorite Scott Mellanby spotted a rat scurrying across the locker room floor.

Mellanby took his hockey stick and one-timed the rat across the dressing room, killing it. He then took that stick and scored two goals in Florida’s 4-3 win.

Following the game, Panthers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck told the rat story to reporters and dubbed Mellanby’s two goal game a ‘rat trick’.

Within the next couple weeks, fans began throwing rubber rats on the ice following every Panthers goal.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Florida went on an epic run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and the rat-throwing became a national story.

It got to the point where during the finals the Panthers deployed a team of 25 rat collectors to pick up the ridiculous amounts of rats on the ice after every goal.  A pest-control company even sponsored the collection team.

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The Panthers and their amazing run to the finals quickly became known as ‘The Year of the Rat’.

After the season, the NHL made it a rule that fans could not throw objects onto the ice after goals and teams would be penalized if their fans did not obey.

Since then, Florida fans have tossed the rats on the ice following every win.

With the Panthers back in the spotlight due to their amazing run of 10 straight wins and victories in 16 of 19 games, so too are the rats.

Had people been paying attention to the Panthers during the ‘down years’ (or decades, really), they would’ve known that the rats never went away.

Granted, when the team began losing consistently the amount of rats began to dwindle, but they didn’t disappear.

The tradition got a shot in the arm during Florida’s 2012 trip to the playoffs as the largest swarm of rats in years littered the ice following the team’s first playoff win since 1997.

This season the Panthers are the talk of the NHL.  The young core built by general manager Dale Tallon is beginning to take the reins of the team and the results on the ice are impressive.

With a legitimately good team to cheer for, a team that is expected to only get better over the next few years, it’s a safe bet that the rats (and wins) are only going to grow in numbers.

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The Panthers face the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, January 7th at 7:30 p.m. You can hear every game on Sports Radio 560 WQAM, the radio home of the Florida Panthers.