The puck rockets past the goalie. A siren blares. The crowd cheers, while Idaho Steelheads players embrace and exchange pats on the back.
A fish flops onto the ice, and seconds later the ice crew scoops it up and whisks it away, holding it aloft in celebration of the team’s first goal of the night.
For years, it’s been tradition for a fan to throw an actual steelhead onto the ice after the Boise-based hockey team scores its first goal. But where exactly does the fish — and the tradition — come from?
The quirky practice has its roots in the NHL, according to Eric Trapp, president of the Idaho Steelheads.
“It’s kind of the history of hockey,” he said.
“When the Steelheads started in ‘97, people would sneak fish in,” Trapp said. “We started giving out rubber fish (for fans to throw) but the league said it caused too much of a delay.”
The ECHL said it would allow one fish — so for the last decade or so, Trapp said, that’s what the Steelheads have done.
Your chance to throw the Idaho Steelheads fish
The lucky fish-thrower is randomly selected from a list of fans who sign up at idahosteelheads.com, according to Steelheads Assistant General Manager Steven Anderson.
For the last two years, the fish toss has been sponsored in part by Paddles Up Poke, a local rafting-themed restaurant that riffs on traditional Hawaiian cuisine. The fish itself, which is frozen, comes from seafood distributor Ocean Beauty.
Stephanie Meyet, who won the giveaway, said she attended the March 30 Steelheads game with her sister.
“Every time I went to a game, I thought, ‘Who brought a fish?!?’ ” Meyet said in an Instagram message to the Statesman. “They provide a fish to throw and a great goodie bag afterward.”
Dan Landucci, who owns Paddles Up, said he got the chance to throw the fish on March 29.
“You get pretty nervous because everyone turns and looks at you, the camera’s on you,” Landucci told the Statesman in a phone interview.
“You almost can’t even enjoy the game until they’ve scored,” he joked.
Anderson said officials try to make the fish toss as simple as possible to ensure the fish lands on the ice and not, say, on another hockey fan unfortunate enough to sit in front of you. The person throwing the fish is seated in an area without safety netting, usually only a few rows up from the glass.
Anderson said fans often ask about the fish toss, and game attendees have come to expect it.
“People always ask how their kids can get involved,” he said. “The fans know it’s coming, so it’s exciting.”
Steelheads begin playoffs Friday at home
The Steelheads clinched a spot in the playoffs for the 22nd year in a row. They’ll play the Utah Grizzlies on Friday and Saturday at CenturyLink Arena (7:10 p.m. each night) to begin the best-of-7 series.
“We’re hoping to make a long playoffs run,” Anderson said. “The regular season was awesome. We sold out 17 games.”
Playoff tickets are available at idahosteelheads.com or by calling the CenturyLink Arena box office at (208) 331-8497.
Games 3 through 5 are April 17, 19 and 20 in Utah. Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be April 22-23 in Boise.