The NHL wasn’t exactly thrilled at how long it took for Florida Panthers home games to be completed during the 1996 playoffs.
Every time the Panthers scored, hundreds — and sometimes thousands — of rubber rats would fly down from the stands and pile up onto the ice.
Although fans were warned not to throw things onto the playing surface, few took notice nor took the warnings seriously.
After all, the wife of the team’s owner brought her own supply of toy rodents to games and was often shown on television chucking them over the glass to celebrate her team’s goals.
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Marti Huizenga, the South Florida philanthropist who helped bring the Marlins and Panthers to life alongside billionaire husband H. Wayne Huizenga, died Tuesday at age 74.
The Panthers, perhaps the team Marti Huizenga loved most, will honor her spirit and life before Wednesday’s home game against the Winnipeg Jets at BB&T Center in Sunrise.
“She hardly ever missed a game,” said an emotional Bill Torrey, who was the first hockey-related hire of the Huizengas after South Florida was awarded an NHL expansion team in 1992.
“She loved the game. The rats were right up Marti’s alley. She would come to the game with a shopping bag full of rats. And she could throw. Everyone was throwing them and she was an involved player.”
The Huizengas are known for their philanthropy throughout the region but became best known to South Florida through their sports teams.
H. Wayne Huizenga, at one point, owned three of Miami’s pro sports teams with rumors he was interested in buying the Heat as well.
Two of the teams — the Panthers and Marlins — were expansion cousins playing their first games within months of each other.
Marti Huizenga became a fan favorite as she and Wayne did the ‘hokey-pokey’ on the infield at Joe Robbie Stadium during the Marlins’ inaugural season and later joined fans in the stands at Miami Arena for hockey games.
The Huizengas were beloved by the players and folks in their employ, team broadcaster and former player Randy Moller said, because they were genuine people.
“I will always remember her throwing those rats onto the ice, but I have many more personal memories of her,” Moller said. “She was more than that.
“Every year, she had all the wives — players, broadcasters, employees — to her home in Fort Lauderdale for lunch. And it wasn’t some fancy catered deal.
“What impressed my wife so much was the house was so homey, so welcoming. And then there’s Marti, pulling the cookies and muffins out of the oven herself with stacks of mail on the counter. It’s a sad day. But I have great memories.”
Added Torrey: “She enjoyed the game and enjoyed the team very much. She enjoyed being involved with the wives, with all the charities.
“She had a great heart. She was always smiling, was always upbeat, had a great personality. It is a sad day.”