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Rink Rats
Leigh Montville
November 20, 1995
They're called the Panthers, but they sit atop the league thanks in part to a rodent
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November 20, 1995

Rink Rats

They're called the Panthers, but they sit atop the league thanks in part to a rodent

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"We're back at square one," Torrey says. "The problem down here is that there are so many different political groups you have to deal with. It isn't like being in New York or Detroit or someplace where you deal with one set of politicians. Here you have Palm Beach County, Broward County, Dade County, all with different ideas. You have all these things working against you. Give Wayne credit. He's losing $1.2 million a month, and he wants to put that money, instead, into some building. You lose $1.2 million a month for three years, and that's more than $40 million you could be putting into a building somewhere."

The players joke darkly about the corporate future, wondering if they should start paying attention to country music because they may be calling Nashville home next year, but they don't spend a lot of time worrying about it. Their immediate interest is in the magical present. Who would have thought any of this was possible? They still practice at the Gold Coast Ice Arena in Pompano Beach, 40 miles north of Miami, dressing in a remodeled former bingo hall that draws a confused senior citizen now and then to the door with the question, "Hey, what happened to the bingo?" But when they play the games in Miami, they are in a changed and wondrous environment.

They can play with anybody. Play? They can beat anybody. Goals seem to come easily, and wins are more commonplace when rats fall from the heavens and slide and skid across the ice, as many as 200 a night. Two "exterminators" in Orkin uniforms help clear the on-ice mess. Pictures of rats are printed on T-shirts. The Panther dressing room has been renamed The Rats Nest. The story of stories grows better and better. It has become almost a fairy tale.

"But put this in," says Mellanby, member of the best hockey team in the world. "I did apologize to the animal rights activists. I didn't mean to kill the rat. I just reacted."

O.K., a modern fairy tale.

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