For more than 60 years, the Little family has owned Little's Fish Company in Nashville. In that time, they've become a local institution in Music City, providing a variety of fish and seafood as well as poultry, beef, pork and even specialty items such as alligator, rabbit, turtle and something called rooster fries.
But as the Nashville Predators prepare to host the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday (8 p.m. ET), Little has been getting plenty of requests for one particular item.
"Definitely been getting people calling wanting to know if we've got whole catfish in stock. You can tell the Predators fans apart from the normal customer," said Chris Little, who is the third generation of his family to run the fish market. "Kind of the way they ask. I already know they're looking for the catfish with the head on and the skin on and the guts in them."
For years, Predators fans have taken to tossing whole catfish onto the ice during home games. The tradition is believed to date at least as far back as the 2002-03 season, the Predators' sixth after joining the NHL in 1998. Considered a delicacy through much of the South, the catfish became a part of the local hockey culture that emulated Detroit Red Wings fans' longtime habit of throwing octopus on the ice at Joe Louis Arena. The beloved tradition even followed the team to Pittsburgh for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Early in the second period, the game was briefly interrupted when a whiskered fish found its way onto the ice.
"He did not get that one from here," Little said about the incident. "I wish he would have, but he didn't."
Pittsburgh authorities charged Predators fan and self-professed "dumb redneck" Jake Waddell with three misdemeanors for interrupting the game. Those charges were ultimately dropped, but by then, catfish had already been introduced to the series before it had even arrived in Nashville.
With calls for catfish coming in all week as Nashville prepares to host its first finals game, the patriarch of the city's first family of fish played armchair meteorologist. Forecast for Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena: cloudy with a high chance of catfish.
"I think we'll definitely see some on the ice. There's no doubt about that," the 43-year-old Little said. "How many we see, I don't know. I know Carrie Underwood has been challenged to throw one out. I don't know if she's going to do that or not. I hope she does."
Should the country music superstar and wife of the Predators' appropriately-named captain, Mike Fisher, get in on the act -- she said on Twitter she wouldn't -- it would be the culmination of several years of Music City developing its own unique hockey culture by turning to its cherished local traditions.
The catfish tradition has become a Predators signature while helping grow Little's family business, which now includes a second location. If nothing else, it has forced the fish market's ownership to learn about the sport that has suddenly taken over local sports chatter.
"I don't know a whole lot about hockey. I'm learning more and more," Little said. "We've had people come in the last few years and buy an octopus. I don't understand that one at all."
After being informed of how Red Wings fans had made octopus part of hockey lore, Little made a quick alteration to how this Nashville institution operates.
"I'll have to pay attention. Next time Detroit is in town, I'm not going to sell octopus," he said. "Now we know and we're going to make sure we're out of stock on octopus during the week Detroit is down here."