|'Rat man' retires after 21-year career|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 24 April 2007 10:32|
That said, he'll always be remembered for his coup de grace on a rodent.
The 40-year-old Mellanby retired Tuesday, less than a week after the Thrashers were swept in the first round of the playoffs.
``It's been a great ride,'' said Mellanby, who spent the final two seasons of a 21-year career as Atlanta's captain, ``but it's time to go on to something else.''
His greatest ride of all came during the 1995-96 season, when the right wing scored a career-best 32 goals, was picked for the All-Star game and helped the Florida Panthers make it to the Stanley Cup final in their third season of existence.
He also contributed to hockey lore early in the season. When a rat scurried across the locker room before a game, Mellanby killed it with a whack of the stick. He then went out and scored two goals that night - dubbed a ``rat trick'' by teammate John Vanbiesbrouck.
As news of the episode spread, Florida fans began celebrating goals by tossing plastic rats onto the ice. By the playoffs, thousands of fake rodents littered the rink every time the Panthers scored.
``It became the motto of our team that season,'' Mellanby said. ``When I played in the All-Star game, a kid came up to me and said, 'You're the rat guy.' He didn't even know my name; he just knew I killed the rat.''
Even getting swept by a superior Colorado team in the Stanley Cup final did little to lessen the appeal of that magical season.
``We had chemistry,'' Mellanby said. ``If you could put that in a bottle, you could make a lot of money selling it. For whatever reason, things clicked.''
His other finals appearance came in 1987, his first full season in the league. Philadelphia lost to Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in a seven-game series, and Mellanby never came so close again to winning the Cup.
``At the time, you don't really appreciate how hard it is to get there,'' he said. ``You just figure you'll be back the next year. But it doesn't go that way.''
Mellanby seriously considered retirement the last few years but kept coming back in hopes of carrying the Cup. His last chance came this season, when he helped the Thrashers make the playoffs for the first time.
``I'd be lying if I said that wasn't a void in my career,'' Mellanby said. ``But, at the end of the day, all you can do as a player is look in the mirror and know you've given everything you had on and off the ice.''
Mellanby entered the league with Philadelphia in 1986 after playing college hockey at Wisconsin. He moved on to Edmonton, Florida and St. Louis before closing his career in Atlanta.
He played in 69 games this season, with 12 goals and 24 assists.
In 1,431 regular-season games - tied for 17th on the NHL's career list - Mellanby had 364 goals, 476 assists and 2,479 penalty minutes. He also appeared in 136 playoff games, scoring 24 goals and adding 29 assists.
``Not only have we watched him on the ice, but we've seen what he's done for our organization in the locker room and off the ice,'' Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said. ``It's something really remarkable, the effect he's had on our younger players.''
Mellanby's retirement leaves another hole for the Thrashers to fill. They have a dozen unrestricted free agents, including key players such as Keith Tkachuk and Slava Kozlov.
Although Mellanby felt he could still play at a competitive level, the toll of traveling, practicing and taking on such a prominent leadership role persuaded him to hang up the skates.
``I wish I could have begun working with him earlier in his career,'' Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. ``His experience and respect in the locker room was invaluable to the success of our club.''
R with his family. Television might be an option - he's the son of a former Hockey Night in Canada producer - though Mellanby said his former teammates kept telling him that he's ``got a face for radio.''
And how does he want to be remembered?
``Someone who cared about his teammates and about his organization and about the game. Someone who came to play every night,'' Mellanby replied. ``Every night wasn't great. But I feel like I always gave it everything I had.''