Detroit has its octopus, Florida has its rats. Nashville has its catfish.
Predators fans have been hurling catfish onto the ice since 2003. Their 2017 postseason run, which includes their first trip to the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final, has brought more – and larger – catfish.
While it’s a time-honored tradition, it’s against the rules.
63.4 Objects Thrown on the Ice – In the event that objects are thrown on the ice that interfere with the progress of the game, the Referee shall blow the whistle and stop the play and the puck shall be faced-off at a face-off spot in the zone nearest to the spot where play is stopped.
When objects are thrown on the ice during a stoppage in play, including after the scoring of a goal, the Referee shall have announced over the public address system that any further occurrences will result in a bench minor penalty being assessed to the home team.
Articles thrown onto the ice following a special occasion (i.e. hat trick) will not result in a bench minor penalty being assessed.
After getting word from the on-ice officials, Nashville’s public address announcer Paul McCann relayed the advisory to fans. So far in Nashville, no penalties have been handed out for subsequent violations.
That’s not always the case.
Philadelphia Flyers fans were given out light-up bracelets prior to a game against the Washington Capitals. Frustrated with the officials and their team’s effort, fans threw the bracelets onto the ice. “Show class,” said Flyers public address announcer Lou Nolan, in delivering the warning to the fans. “The next one who does it will cause us a minor penalty. Do not do it!” They did, picking up a minor penalty for the Flyers.
The Florida Panthers picked up not one, but two delay of game penalties for souvenir rats being thrown on the ice in 2016.
Interestingly enough, the Panthers were the team responsible for the creation of the rule two decades earlier. Florida’s Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the locker room prior to scoring two goals in their 1995-96 home opener. The “rat trick” was born. Fans tossed rats onto the ice after each goal, making for some memorable moments as the team made a Cinderella run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final.
“It started off as a fun thing, and it built a bond between our fans and the players,” said Bill Torrey, Panthers president from 1993-2001. “But there’s always somebody who goes too far. If they just throw it after we score, there’s no problem. But, there is a concern that if people start doing it at other times, during play, and there is the possibility of injury. How do you control it … I’m sure it will be discussed at the board level.”
The league passed the rule change that following summer, levying a bench minor to the home team for fans throwing objects on the ice.
“It’s never been a problem, but not a lot of people wanted to carry live octopus into the game [in Detroit], so it didn’t get out of hand,” added Torrey.
Nashville fans have certainly stepped up their game, when it comes to smuggling seafood into the arena, even going so far as to throw a duck during the 2017 Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks.
Keep in mind, though, it’s not just the NHL doling out punishment. A Red Wings fan was ejected and fined for his octopus toss. PETA has also lobbied to increase penalties for fans throwing octopi in Detroit.
“Putting aside the hat trick, we don’t think it’s a good idea for fans to be throwing things on the ice for a whole host of reasons,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said last season. “We don’t think it’s appropriate, other than the case of the hat trick, to throw things on the ice. Not only is it disruptive to the game, it’s potentially dangerous.”
“An occasional octopus, I’m not justifying it, is certainly different than 10,000 rats.”
The NHL’s official stance:
“The throwing of objects onto the ice surface is prohibited by the National Hockey League and persons caught doing so may be subject to prosecution for violating local and state laws.”
Just remember, as you unwrap that smuggled mud cat and wind up to throw, you’re taking the law – and the catfish – into your own hands.