Do you think it's been a while since the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup? Remember that the Panthers supporters, much fewer in number, we agree, had to wait almost as long to see their favorites reach the final.
“It was much too long . And it was far too long before they were simply in the portrait of the series, ”launched Brian Skrudland, in a telephone interview with Le Journal de Montréal.
Former Canadian player, Skrudland was the captain of the Panthers when they reached the final for the only other time in their history, in the spring of 1996.
“I am so happy for this concession. I feel pure excitement, launched Skrudland, based in Calgary for several years.
Director of player development from 2010 to 2016, Skrudland worked on the hatching of Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Although Skrudland is jubilant at the idea of seeing the Panthers in the final, he says he empathizes with Huberdeau, traded last summer in the transaction involving Matthew Tkachuk .
“I feel a bit of sorrow for Huberdeau. I fully understand what he is going through right now.”
Near the end of the world
Traded from the Canadiens to the Flames in January 1993, Skrudland had watched, sitting in his living room, his former teammates lift the Stanley Cup on June 9 of the same year.
“We tell ourselves that it is not the end of the world, but by the time it happens, it's pretty much the closest thing to it.”
What's even more shocking to the Quebecer is that he was instrumental in bringing a winning culture back to South Florida.
“[MacKenzie] Weegar [involved in the same transaction] and he can still take pride in the work they have accomplished. They helped bring a winning culture back to Florida,” Skrudland said.
A bit like the Panthers of 1996, no one expected to see Paul Maurice's troupe reach the final round.
“That’s pretty much the only similarity between the two teams. That and the keeper. John Vanbiesbrouck was largely responsible for our presence in the final. Sergei Bobrovsky is doing a bit of the same thing.”
Since they were only in their third season of existence and the rules of the expansion draft were not nearly as advantageous as Today, the Panthers were mostly made up of support players and plumbers.
“We didn't have [Matthew] Tkachuk, a smart player who has it all. We didn't have [Aleksander] Barkov either. It was when the Panthers drafted him that things started to change. He became a superstar.”
And today, the Panthers finally seem to have a solid base. Let's say that at this level, their supporters have never really been spoiled. After making the 1996 Finals, the Panthers have made the playoffs just four times in 22 years.
Scott Mellanby at ’origin of the rat tradition
Aleksander Barkov had to be careful. The Prince of Wales trophy in hand, he had to cross the rink, making sure not to put his skate on one of the plastic rats thrown on the rink by the fans.
Beyond the recklessness of the captain of the Panthers, who thus defied fate in such a reckless way as if he had passed under a ladder or if he had come across a black cat on Friday the 13th, Brian Skrudland saw a nice nod to the 1996 team.
Because it was during this 1995-1996 season, in a scene worthy of a summer play by Gilles Latulippe , how this tradition was born.
“We were in the locker room, about to jump on the ice, when we started to hear shouting: “There is a rat! There is a rat!” As several guys were jumping on the benches, Scott Mellanby and I got face to face in the hope of pinning him down,” Skrudland said.
Smelling hot soup, the rat first managed to run away before reappearing. Again looking for an exit, he began to run along the wall until he approached Mellanby.
“When the rat got close to him, Scott gave him booked a one-timer shot. The rat crossed the locker room before going to crash against the wall. He died instantly,” he continued.
A “rat trick”
The story would probably have ended there if Mellanby had not ended the evening with two goals. “A rat trick,” Skrudland quipped, adding that the story quickly hit the papers creating some buzz.
“At the same time, he wasn’t the only rat around. In the surroundings of the Miami Arena, there must have been three million!”
The Panthers, who were only in their third season, had just found, without knowing it, the element that would unite the players and rally the fans to their cause.
In fact, the tradition had taken on enormous proportions during the playoffs. After each Panthers goal, plastic mammals littered the Miami Arena ice by the hundreds.
“I remember Patrick Roy, hidden in his net to avoid getting hit on the head, when we ended up scoring a goal against him,” said his former teammate with the Habs.
Except he was the one who had the last word, winning the final in four games.