Lifestyle

Here's Why Nashville's Hockey Fans Throw Catfish Onto the Ice

Nashville Preds
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images Sport

UPDATE 5/10: The Nashville Predators are real contenders once again in 2018, entering the NHL playoffs as the top seed in the Western Conference. Tonight  they'll take on the Winnipeg Jets in Game 7 of a series tied at 3-3. The forecast calls for more catfish.

The Nashville Predators’ runs to the Stanley Cup Finals have afforded many opportunities for announcers and sportswriters to remind fans that the Music City is a “non-traditional” hockey town. And while, yes, there are fewer than a dozen rinks in the state, Middle Tennessee has taken to the local NHL team with a fervor normally reserved for SEC football. Celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon as well, with Carrie Underwood (the wife of team captain Mike Fisher), Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, Kelly Clarkson, and local pro athletes all showing up to recent playoff contests.

It began with Detroit -- and an octopus

Believe it or not, Nashville is now an honest-to-goodness hockey town, and more and more people are learning about the diehard fans’ bizarre game-time ritual: throwing catfish onto the ice. Many wonder, “Why in the good name of Lord Stanley do the Preds faithful do this?” Well, you can blame it on Detroit.

Back when the Predators launched in 1998, a large portion of the fanbase was made up of Red Wings-loving transplants who worked at the local auto plants. These carpetbaggers were an important part of the initial rooting section, bringing their passion for the game to the arena, as well as their own strange habit -- The Legend of the Octopus. The practice dates back to 1952, when some Detroit rooters decided to throw an octopus onto the ice for good luck, reasoning that the eight arms of the cephalopod represented the eight wins necessary for the team to win a championship. The Red Wings took home the Cup and, with hockey fans generally being superstitious types, the octopi have been raining down from the stands ever since.

Catfish nashville PReds
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images Sport

Perfecting the art of throwing catfish

Fast forward to 2002, when the Wings came to Nashville, and some inspired Preds lover decided that the team needed its own twist on the toss, this time using a staple of local cuisine. During the game, seemingly out of nowhere, a catfish flew over the glass onto center ice, the crowd went wild, Nashville won, and the tradition was born. (Not everyone was happy about it, though -- one stadium worker tasked with cleaning them up said, “They are so gross. They're huge, they're heavy, they stink, and they leave this slimy trail on the ice. But, hey, if it's good for the team, I guess we can deal with it.'')

And as one might reasonably expect, it’s not an easy stunt to pull off, given that it’s technically illegal to bring them into the stadium. Fans either purchase the fish at local seafood markets or catch their own whiskered whales from the Cumberland River, which runs a few blocks from Bridgestone. Then they smuggle the beasts inside, often using plastic wrap or tape to affix the contraband to the small of their backs, stomachs, or legs while the ushers and security guards (usually) turn a blind eye out of loyalty to the team. The throwing mostly happens before the end of the pre-game “Star-Spangled Banner,” as few people want to have a smelly, rotting animal stuck to them for any longer than necessary. Others, with less concern for the odors and slime, hold out until the Predators score or win.

Whatever you do, don’t get arrested

This year, there have already been a few notable tosses throughout the playoffs, both in Nashville and out. Tennessee Titans tackle Taylor Lewan brought catfish into two games so far, holding one over his head before chugging a beer while the arena went bonkers. In the first game of the Finals, one Preds fanatic decided to repeat the feat in Pittsburgh to rally a Predators’ comeback. That stunt not only earned him an immediate ejection from the Penguins arena, but also an arrest for disorderly conduct, possessing instruments of a crime, and “disrupting a meeting.” A local radio station promised to pay all of his fines, and he’s being hailed as a hero. All charges against the fan were later dropped.

It might all seem crazy, but that’s the “Smashville” way now. Now that the team is in the Stanley Cup Finals, the stakes are high and fans have taken the tradition to a whole new level. During game three, a total of five catfish hit the ice, causing a stoppage of play, and some necessary clean-up.

Before game four, Predator's Head Coach Peter Laviolette took to Twitter to ask fans not to throw things on the ice:

"Showing good sportsmanship is part of being good citizens of 'Smashville'. That means not throwing anything on the ice, putting both our players, and the officials in danger. Help us secure our home-ice advantage and prevent us from being penalized for unnecessary reasons," Laviolette said. "Please don't throw anything on the ice and thank you for being the best fans in the National Hockey League."

But come game six in Nashville, the fans screamed, local country stars sang, and the catfish continued to fly, even up until the point of defeat -- after all, it’s tradition in a non-traditional hockey town.

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Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink, and travel writer as well as a Nashville Predators season ticket holder. He prefers his catfish fried and his penguins locked up in zoos. Follow his opinions about the offside rule on Twitter @CeeElCee.