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Big Ern Wows the Crowd: Stories Of The Season

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Before the madness of the Stanley Cup Playoffs grips us all, I thought I'd poll the Nashville hockey writing community on the stories which will stand out when we look back on this 2011-2012 Predators season. This series will run over the next week or so, and celebrate events on and off the ice, some momentous, some just plain silly. I hope you enjoy them. Today's selection: Patten Fuqua (@puckscenedotcom on Twitter) highlights Brian McGrattan's fearsome November 17 battle with Jay Rosehill.

Let's get it out of the way up front. Stepping into Wade Belak's role on the Nashville Predators would be an incredibly uncomfortable position for anyone. Regardless of on-ice contributions, Belak was one of the most beloved and popular players in franchise history, and his sudden passing last summer was a brutal shock to the community.

The Preds have long valued the presence of an enforcer, however, so just before the regular season was set to begin, they took an opportunity to claim Brian McGrattan off waivers from Anaheim, apparently unimpressed with the pugilistic production of Zack Stortini, who was subsequently dispatched to Milwaukee. McGrattan wasted no time endearing himself to teammates and fans by embracing and relishing his role as the team's designated bruiser.

In the team's first Saturday night home game of the season, he not only delivered a savage beating to New Jersey's Cam Janssen, but he seemed to thoroughly enjoy the exercise - he egged on the crowd between haymakers, and sported a wild grin as he and Janssen tangled for two full minutes. The Preds had not only found an enforcer, but a showman, too.

What followed about a month later against Jay Rosehill of Toronto, however, was "Fight Of The Year" material.

Via email, Patten Fuqua of sets the scene:

You can almost say that no one really expected this one - you don't often see many fights like this between non-conference opponents that never see each other. In addition, McGrattan had never seen Rosehill
before. However, when the gloves were dropped, you knew that this one probably would not be topped for a while. Almost as soon as it happened, Puck Daddy and posters on were calling it a "fight of the year" candidate.

Via (which currently lists this as the #2 fight of the year, with McGrattan/Janssen third), we can relive that marathon heavyweight battle:

In Patten's recap of that game, he got the scoop from the big man himself on his eventful night, which also came close to including a goal:

"When we started, I didn't think he was going to come at me left, but he came at me left," McGrattan said. "I prefer lefties because they have to open up against me. I think I can outpunch anybody in the league and think I landed some good ones."

"At the end I caught a couple of shots to his helmet," McGrattan said. "I wasn't concerned with getting his helmet off because that's when you can catch one. I was trying to get him on the side of the cheek there, but he covered up and I caught a few on his bucket."

In addition to the fight, McGrattan had his two best chances at scoring a goal as a Predator. One attempt, in the second period, nearly trickled over the goal line before Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn cleared the puck away from behind goaltender Ben Scrivens.

"The one in the first period I kind of picked the puck up in someone's feet behind the net," McGrattan said. "I tried to wrap it around. Just as I was about to shoot, the guy lifted my stick. The other one was about a hair out from going past the line. Hopefully I'll get one soon."

With a smile on his face and ice on his bloodied knuckles, McGrattan knows he did his job.

The picture Patten paints of the dressing room says it all:

The weird part of the whole thing is that I was actually the only one to talk to him about it after the game. He was sitting there with a huge grin on his face and a bag of ice over his bloody knuckles which had become all pink and gooey because the blood had leaked through.

Fighters are usually among the most popular members of any hockey team, but in McGrattan's case, not only has Nashville landed a knuckle-chucker of the highest order, but a guy who appreciates what this job means to teammates, opponents, and fans in the stands.

He gets it.

Toss in his story of personal redemption, too, and it's easy to understand how "Big Ern" has earned (Erned?) himself such a large, devoted following in Nashville this season.