The Year of the Rat...In Hockey?

Scott Isaksen
From the Sept/Oct 1996 Rat & Mouse Gazette

First, it was rats running under the players benches at the Boston Garden and now, it's rats being tossed onto the ice when the Florida Panthers score a goal at home. Oh, by the way, they're plastic rats, so you can put down the telephones and stop writing the hate mail. Since I live with my lovely wife and 50 or so rats, not a day goes by that I don't hear a story about them. So, for a twist, I talked her into letting me tell some stories about rats and my favorite sport, hockey.

Rats and hockey have been synonymous for many years. Each time they built arenas in the old days, somehow, the rats made themselves at home. Where else could they get their fill of discarded hot dogs, peanuts, and popcorn after each event?

One of the most famous "Rat Holes", as they were called, was the Boston Garden in Massachusetts. When they planned to close the Garden, one of the souvenir T-shirts for the final season was "The Garden Rat", a giant rat hugging a hockey player goodbye.

I spoke with a few Bruins oldies, Ted Cooke, Steven Scally, and William Scally, The Scally Brothers as they were known (just imagine the Hansen Brothers of hockey fame and you have these guys. Oh yeah, I keep forgetting, most of you wouldn't know them. Well, maybe your husbands can explain it for you). Anyway, getting back to the story of the rats, Ted told me of a time on the bench when he looked over and saw a rat just casually gnawing on one of the Scally's sticks. He said "Hey, you've got a rat chewing on your stick!" Steven looked over, saw him, and said "Yeah, that's Harold. Whenever he chews my stick I score a couple of goals, so don't scare him off!" Occurrences like those were not uncommon. Many players would see rats scurrying around and some even had chew laces.

Now, in the year of the rat, they have come out from underground and have made their presence truly known all over hockey. Just ask the Florida Panthers of the NHL (National Hockey League). Their story of rats started October 8, 1995, in the locker room before their game when a big rat came scampering across the floor behind some equipment bags. Not missing a beat, Scott Mellanby grabbed his stick and one-timed the poor creature against the wall (sorry ladies, my wife was appalled, too). Later that night he scored two goals! In hockey, if you score three goals in one game it's called a "hat trick" and fans will throw hats onto the ice to toast the player. Well, picking up on that, a reporter for the Boston Herald, Dave Sheinin, knew of the rat in the locker room incident and instantly called it a "Rat Trick".

A fan went to a novelty shop and purchased plastic rats and "Ratmania" was born. First, about two or three rats were thrown onto the ice after the Panthers scored on their home ice - then it was ten to twenty at a time. Soon, it became hundreds, until finally, during the Stanley Cup Finals it was thousands of the black plastic rats in various sizes hitting the ice. Stores were selling thousands of the ice destined rats in a single day and had to order more and more. Ratmania caused such a frenzy that they even began selling T-shirts, pucks, and all kinds of rat memorabilia. Unfortunately, the rat fan support didn't take them all the way to the championship.

The rat phenomenon is also apparent in other hockey leagues with some teams calling themselves rats. In the AHL (American Hockey League) there are the "Albany River Rats" who won the Calder Cup (the leagues championship) last year and in the RHI (Roller Hockey International) there are the "Sacramento River Rats". In the California Roller Hockey Association, in which I am a goaltender, there are six teams containing the word "Rat".

In honor of my wife, I had a custom airbrush paint job of a rat done on my goalie mask with the name "RINK RAT' painted on the chin. The term rinkrat is used for a person who spends all of their spare time at the rink playing hockey and if it weren't for my wife's work with RMCA, I don't think I could get away with playing so much to be considered a rinkrat, so I must thank you all for keeping her so busy!

When they say it's the "Year of the Rat" I guess they really mean it. At least it's good to see that our furry friends have finally made it, too. So, when you take time out on a cold winters night to sit down with your husband, relax and turn on your favorite team, it should comfort you to know that there are more than just PEOPLE in the stands watching our favorite sport - HOCKEY!

This story is dedicated to our family's favorite friend, Slash - one special rescue rat. Sara is going to miss you, Slasherkins.