The origins of Predators’ catfish-tossing tradition

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Detroit Red Wings fans have their octopi. The Panthers’ faithful in Florida had the “rat trick.”

Nashville? The Predators have catfish, the Southern staple that has become a beloved badge of honor fans delight in throwing onto the ice for good luck.

Who started Music City’s slippery tradition? This fish tale stretches from the home of one of the Original Six NHL franchises to what once was one of Nashville’s seediest neighborhoods a generation ago, following the long and twisting path of a man who has been a country music drummer, disc jockey, chef and restaurant owner. And, as he tells it, Nashville’s original catfish chucker.

That man is Bob Wolf, and he feels his need for secrecy finally is at an end.

“It’s been 20 years almost, and it’s time,” Wolf said.

Indeed it is. The Predators are about to host their first Stanley Cup Final game, on Saturday night. Pittsburgh leads the best-of-seven series 2-0, but that’s another story.

Nashville’s catfish tradition is well known around here, but it became national news earlier this week thanks to Jacob Waddell, 36 .

After an extraordinary effort to conceal a flattened catfish on his person, Waddell threw it onto the ice – in Pittsburgh – on Monday night. The Predators then scored three goals before Pittsburgh pulled out a 5-3 win in the opener. Waddell was charged with disorderly conduct, possessing instruments of crime and disrupting meetings or processions before they were withdrawn.

Wolf, of course, watched all this from afar with some measure of satisfaction.

He says the idea to toss a catfish grew out a discussion at Wolfy’s during the Predators’ inaugural season, back in 1998-99. Wolf is a Rangers’ fan born in Brooklyn who had played drums for Johnny Paycheck and others before going into the restaurant business in Nashville. He helped open the restaurant bearing his name across from renowned honky-tonk Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. He also lobbied Nashville to build an arena on the other corner to spur redevelopment of what then was a neighborhood down on its luck.

Back then, he served burgers to construction workers and the Predators’ new owner, Craig Leipold. Once Nashville landed an NHL expansion franchise, Wolfy’s became a go-to stop for fans and players. There were also a fair number of Red Wings fans in the area, thanks to General Motors’ nearby Saturn plant and the automaker’s close ties to Detroit.

The Red Wings immediately became Nashville’s biggest foe.

A couple days before Detroit’s visit in January 1999, Wolf said, he sat with friends looking for a uniquely Tennessee answer to the Red Wings’ storied octopus tradition. Jack Daniel’s whiskey was too precious. Guitar picks way too small. Wolf’s inspiration came when he walked outside and looked down Broadway to the Cumberland River.

Catfish!

Wolf bought a nine-pound catfish and wrapped it in newspaper and plastic wrap. On Jan. 26, 1999, Wolf tucked the catfish underneath his Predators’ jersey, walked in and waited for Nashville’s first goal. The stench started wafting around him until the Preds’ lone goal in what ended up a 4-1 loss.

Wolf said he tossed the catfish, then ran up the aisle. Friends around the arena provided cover and a distraction by running as well.

“The first time I saw the catfish flop on the ice, we were playing Detroit so I thought it was an octopus,” Leipold, now owner of the Minnesota Wild, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it was a catfish. I figured that it had to be one of our fans mocking the Red Wings. I was not disappointed.”

Wolf said Leipold, still a close friend, did not know about the catfish. With a small bar inside the arena, Wolf said he knew where to hide from security, too.

“It wasn’t meant to be anything but fun and answer Detroit’s call to their octopus,” said Wolf, now semi-retired and living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. “`Hey, we’re the new Southern team on the ice, and we’re going to throw a catfish on the ice.’ That was kind of the attitude that day.”

Nashville was hooked. The catfish caught on. The tradition became so popular that officials started handing out delay of game penalties against the Predators, which put things on ice for a while.

With the Predators’ in the playoffs for the 10th time in 13 years, there has been a catfish comeback. Dead fish have never been so popular.

Five hit the ice one night early in the playoffs. The offensive linemen of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans held up catfish while revving up fans before another game. Country star Keith Urban even held up a catfish, and the linemen had more catfish for Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. When Colton Sissons finished a hat trick, left tackle Taylor Lewan celebrated by throwing a catfish instead of a hat.

Little Fish Market in Nashville was offering a free catfish to fans with a ticket to Game 3 or Game 4 – that’s $1.95 a pound, including head, skin and guts.

The Predators don’t discuss security procedures, and it’s not clear how many catfish will be in attendance – in secret or otherwise – at Games 3 and 4. No etiquette exists for the best time to throw a catfish, though fans have largely avoided throwing them on the ice during play this season. It essentially gives the other team a free timeout, after all, and there’s that threat of putting the other team on a power play.

Tossing catfish during pregame festivities appears to work best for fans, with one caveat: Don’t hit the anthem singer.

Pete Weber, the Predators’ radio play-by-play man, loves explaining to outsiders why Nashville fans toss a catfish.

“I really tend to get tickled when I see a catfish go over the glass,” Weber said. “I absolutely love that.”

Wolf marvels at the Predators’ success and the tradition that started with a single fish.

“The idea was to keep it a secret, and obviously we did a good job until the Pittsburgh fish,” Wolf said. “And this story has to get out. It’s a fun story, and it sets the record straight.”

AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell in Minnesota and Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Canucks name new head coach of AHL affiliate

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The Vancouver Canucks have finally settled on a head coach for their AHL affiliate.

Today, Trent Cull was named new bench boss of the Utica Comets.

Cull replaces Travis Green, the new head coach of the Canucks.

“Trent is a passionate head coach with significant AHL experience,” Canucks GM Jim Benning said in a release. “He understands the development path of a young player, including the challenges they face, and has been a part of many successful organizations. Trent is a teacher with a positive, energetic work ethic. We’re excited to welcome him and his family to our organization.”

The past four seasons, Cull has been an assistant coach for AHL Syracuse. The Crunch made it all the way to the 2017 Calder Cup Final, where they lost to Grand Rapids.

Cull, 43, has never been a head coach in the AHL, though he did hold that role for three years with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves from 2010-13.

It’s believed the Canucks’ first choice for the Utica job was Rocky Thompson. However, Thompson chose instead to become head coach of Vegas’ AHL affiliate in Chicago.

Construction worker dies after fall at Detroit arena

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DETROIT (AP) A worker has died after falling 75 feet at the Little Caesars Arena worksite north of downtown Detroit.

Deputy Detroit Fire Commissioner David Fornell says the 46-year-old man was in cardiac arrest when paramedics arrived about 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Other workers had started cardiopulmonary resuscitation which first responders continued. The man was taken to a Detroit hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Fornell says officials were told the man was an electrical worker and may have fallen from a catwalk. He says the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration likely will investigate.

The arena will be home to the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Pistons. It is scheduled to open this fall.

More on the story from the Detroit Free Press

Habs extend De La Rose — one year, $725,000

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Montreal secured some forward depth on Wednesday, agreeing to terms with Jacob De La Rose.

De La Rose, 22, was taken 34th overall at the 2013 draft and has appeared in 64 games for Montreal over the last three seasons. He had a nice debut for the club in ’14-15 — appearing in 33 regular-season contests, and 12 playoff games — but has since spent the majority of his time in AHL St. John’s.

That might not be the case moving forward, however.

De La Rose’s deal is worth $725,000 (per TSN) and, importantly, is of the one-way variety. There could be more opportunities at forward next season. Montreal has already said it’ll pass on bringing back UFAs Brian Flynn and Dwight King, and it’s unclear if the club will get a deal done with Alexander Radulov.

It’s also unclear what GM Marc Bergevin plans to do with Alex Galchenyuk, who’s been the subject of numerous trade rumors.

Even after bad season in Buffalo, Kulikov generating strong interest as UFA

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Dmitry Kulikov had a bad season in Buffalo. There’s no debating that.

Not only did the defenseman struggle statistically, finishing minus-26 with just two goals and three assists, he also had trouble staying healthy, appearing in just 47 games for the Sabres.

But despite all that, Kulikov seems to be generating plenty of interest as an unrestricted free agent. Presumably, the hope among his many suitors is that he can bounce back, so long as he’s put in a better situation.

Kulikov is still just 26. And before he was traded to Buffalo a year ago, he’d had a number of respectable seasons with the Florida Panthers.

It’s why the Sabres were so happy to get him.

“He’s a good player,” then-GM Tim Murray said last June, per NHL.com. “I like guys that are honest, I like guys that are hard to play against, I certainly like guys that can make a tape-to-tape pass, and with our forwards, I think if he can make a tape-to-tape pass, good things are going to happen in transition with the skill and speed we already have here, so he’s just a great fit.”

Of course, it wasn’t a great fit, and Murray is no longer the GM.

As for Kulikov, there’s “about a dozen” interested teams, according to his agent. Ottawa and Winnipeg are believed to be among them.