Almost eleven years after going to the Stanley Cup finals, the 1996 Panthers came together Saturday at the BankAtlantic Center for a reunion game against former Panther alumni plus some random people to fill out the opponent squad. A number of announced players didn’t show (Trevor Kidd, Chris Wells) and no explanation was provided. Local Channel 7 sportscaster, Mike DiPasquale filled in for Kidd and got pasted four times.
Panthers officials expected around 6 to 8 thousand people, and as a result only opened the lower bowl. It unexpectedly filled up to capacity and they ended up opening the club level to accommodate everyone. The tickets were free to season-ticket holders and $5 to everyone else – all for charity, so no complaints. The final attendance (and this was actual entries, not their usual counting method) was 11817. There were several autograph booths, and the lines were overflowing with nearly a thousand people in them. There was no way to get everyone though the lines.
The final score was a misleading 9 to 5. The 1996 Panthers defeating the Florida Alumni. The first period was played mostly for real with only an Ian Vanbiesbrouck penalty shot on his dad being contrived. Papa left a wide left hole for his son, but his son fanned it, missing that shot. The only notable face-off moment was when Scott Skrudland faced-off against his dad.
As expected, every goal by the ’96 team was greeted with a shower of toy rats with the constant squeaking of the rats filling the arena. Although many announcements were made on the PA, due to some sort of echo problem nobody could actually understand any of them. Happily, the fans knew what was going on, if maybe being ignorant who some of the “alumni” were. The introductions were greeted by heartfelt applause, the 1996 team getting near-universal thunderous applause to one long standing ovation.
The players were clearing having fun. Most, like Garpenlov, skated around with a big shit-eating grin on his face the entire time. Many played without helmets. There was one on and only one check the entire game when Eddie J plastered Denis Potvin into the boards and Potvin looked genuinely surprised and the crowd loved it. The game was ably called by old announcers Chris Moore and Jeff Rimer. The ice was painted to 1996 specifications down the small, round creases.
The game used running time, which means the clock started at 20 minutes and ran through to 0 without stopping. It was followed by an 8-minute intermission. The second intermission was cancelled after only 30 seconds, and the third period began with just 9 minutes on the clock with no explanation. The first period was played mostly for real. The second period was a bit less so with more humour injected. The third period had nothing to do with hockey.
Also in the game a fake penalty (a clear set-up) had Laus dropping the gloves against Worrell. There was a hug and a major penalty for dancing.
Goals for 1996 Panthers in order:
- Barnes, Mellanby, Lindsay
- Jovanovski, Fitzgerald
- Mellanby, Smith
- Lindsay Skrudland
- Smith, Garpenlov
- Sheppard, Hough, Barnes
- Hough, Murphy
For the alumni team Pitlick assisted Belanger on a goal. Beezer was relieved by Fitzpatrick near the back of the second period.
Some quotes from the guys (as provided in a Panthers media release):
“Awesome,” said defenceman Geoff Smith, a member of the ’96 team. “What a turnout. There were always good fans down here. We were signing autographs and people were lined up, excited and talking about how they had waited for this moment for a long time.”
Doug MacLean, coach of the ’96 team, said of the turnout; ‘Guys were sitting on the bench and looking up in the stands and they couldn’t believe the turnout. For a Saturday afternoon at 3 pm? Incredible.’ Asked the reason for the success of the ’96 team, he said, ‘It was heart. I haven’t seen anything like it in my 22 years of hockey.’
Scott Mellanby, who started the ‘Year of the Rat’ when he killed a rodent in the Panther dressing room, scored two goals Saturday and said: ‘I think this shows what a great relationship we had with the fans.’
Asked how he felt after playing the game, Mike Hough, an original Panther and member of the ’96 team, said; ‘I’m tired, but I got my first goal in nine years.’
Brian Skrudland, the Panthers’ captain from 1993-97, said the reunion game was ‘not only great for hockey, but great for South Florida. I think it helps to get people on board with the Florida Panthers.’