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September 16, 2013

Rat Race - Scott Mellanby

Montreal native Scott Mellanby, the son of former Hockey Night in Canada executive producer Ralph Mellanby, entered the league with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1986 and later played for Edmonton (he was traded in a package for Jari Kurri!), Florida, St. Louis and Atlanta.

He played in 1,431 regular-season games. The rugged right-winger had 364 goals, 476 assists and 2,479 penalty minutes. He also appeared in 136 playoff games, scoring 24 goals and adding 29 assists. He was a great competitor and a role player who made himself into one of the game's top players.

But that's not what people will remember Scott Mellanby for. Instead, they'll think of how Mellanby triggered one of the oddest memorabilia crazes in sports history. 

In between periods of the Florida Panthers' home opener against Calgary on Oct. 8, 1995, Mellanby killed a rat with his hockey stick in the Panthers' locker room in Miami Arena. Mellanby went on to score two goals in a 4-3 win. The feat was dubbed as a "rat trick."

The fans would rain the plastic rats down onto the ice every time the Panthers scored a goal. The team would score quite a bit that season, as they earned their first playoff berth that season and, unexpectedly, ventured all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals where the rat phenomenon reached a crescendo. 

"My whole experience in Florida was huge in my career," said Mellanby, who scored a career-high 32 goals in 1995-96. "Being available in expansion was not something I anticipated ... but that was a situation where I was ready to take another step as a leader.

"One of the things I'm proudest of is I became an offensive player there, a 30-goal scorer, and did it on a good team. Florida was the right time and right place in my career."

Mellanby served as alternate captain until 1997, when he replaced the departed Brian Skrudland as captain. But he was a leader whether he had the "C" or not.

"He was a real leader, and he cares genuinely about players," John Vanbiesbrouck said.

Mellanby would move on to finish his career with St. Louis and then Atlanta. But it was his time in South Florida that he will always be remembered for.

"Scott laid a lot of the foundation for hockey down there, helping grow the sport in a place where people said it couldn't be done," said Vanbiesbrouck. "He always cared about the fans in a genuine way, and winning people's hearts is always a big factor toward doing what you need to do on the ice."

Mellanby said his quest for a Stanley Cup played a big part in him playing for so long. He reached the Cup Finals in 1987 with Philadelphia and 1996 with Florida, losing both times.

"It is disappointing," he admitted. "(But) there are no regrets as far as accomplishing that goal. It just wasn't in the cards for me. Since I came in, the league's gone from 21 to 30 teams and that makes it even tougher. There's a lot of good teams that don't even get into the playoffs."

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