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#ThrowbackThursday: Fight Night in Smashville

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The origin story of a beloved Nashville tradition (also, a bunch of fights).

Kirk Maltby crashes into Tomas Vokoun Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images/NHLI

If you ask Predators fans for their favorite game in team history, you can expect a wide range of answers. There’s Mike Fisher’s triple-overtime winner in 2016, the Preds’ win over Anaheim that put them into the Stanley Cup Final, or maybe something sentimental like Wayne Gretzky’s only trip to Nashville back in 1999.

A lot of fans will also bring up the night of October 30, 2003.

Or as some fans call it... “Fight Night in Smashville.”

This matchup between the Predators and Red Wings had a lot going on: nine fights, over 200 penalty minutes, and the sight of one of the most iconic players in NHL history getting thrown out of the game after losing his ever-loving mind. Aside from the rough stuff, the game itself featured a fantastic battle that came down to the last minute, and — oh yeah — the birth of Smashville’s most recognizable tradition.

Epic.

Slow Build Up

The surprising thing about this game is that there was really no previous bad blood between the Red Wings and Predators, despite the two playing in the same division for five seasons. Sure, Preds fans always had this game circled on their calendars, but with Nashville in the Central Division cellar and Detroit still in the prime of their rivalries with Colorado, St. Louis, and Dallas, it was sort of a “one-sided rivalry” early on.

However, there were a few things here and there that had started to pop up in recent years, like a Scott Hartnell hit on Jiri Fischer that cost the latter most of the 2003 season with a knee injury. To heighten the pressure, both teams were in the midst of icy streaks to start the season (the Preds came in with a four-game losing streak, while the Wings had lost four of six). Combine that with the fact Nashville was trying to shake off the “little brother” label and assert themselves as a team to watch in the division, and you get a recipe for absolute chaos.

Chaos that started just 23 seconds into the game.

Fight 1: McCarty (DET) vs. Stevenson (NSH)

This was clearly a “set the tone” kind of scrap, as each team’s enforcer found each other right after the second faceoff of the game. McCarty gets some good shots in before Stevenson starts to fire back. Eventually McCarty gets Stevenson to miss, and takes him down.

HockeyFights.com Voted Winner: McCarty (90%)

Fight 2: Hartnell (NSH) vs. Fischer (DET)

This was the most memorable fight of the night... which is not something Scott Hartnell’s proud of.

Hartnell and Jiri Fischer dropped the gloves after a hit late in the first period. Remember, these two were involved in a play that led to Fischer’s ACL tear the year before.

This time around...

Oh, Scotty....

Buddy...

It’s okay. Just know we still love you.

It was a bad moment for Nashville’s favorite curly-haired rascal. But luckily, he’d get some revenge on the scoresheet later in the game.

HockeyFights.com Voted Winner: You probably didn’t need a reference here, but yeah, it’s Fischer at 100% of the vote.

The Nick Lidström Holding Call

Right at the end of the first period, the Red Wings’ star defender was tagged for a holding call on Kimmo Timonen. It was questionable, as both of Lidström’s hands were firmly on his stick, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t any different than other “iffy” calls we’ve seen on a nightly basis around the league.

So why do we care?

It’s the call that set off Steve Yzerman.

After referee Mike Leggo stopped play for the call, the Wings’ captain skated over and — ahem — let his feelings be known. On top of Lidström’s penalty, Yzerman was tagged for a 2-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing the call. That would have been the end of it. Except Stevie Y wouldn’t let it go. As the period came to an end, Yzerman got in Leggo’s ear again while skating back to the bench. That’s when Leggo handed out a ten minute misconduct.

We’re not done with this story yet...

Fight 3: Walker (NSH) vs. Maltby (DET)

Leave it to the guy Barret Jackman once called “the bulldog” to get Nashville’s intensity going in the second period.

This is the only fight from the game not readily available online, but the HockeyFights.com description lays it out like this: Scott Walker laid a hit on Kirk Maltby, who responded by throwing a punch at the guy who’d become Nashville’s leading scorer that year. The two dropped the gloves and Walker landed several shots before Maltby went in for the takedown.

This wouldn’t be the last matchup between the pair, either.

HockeyFights.com Voted Winner: Walker (100% of the vote).

Fight 4: Tootoo (NSH) vs. Dandenault (DET)

We get to the end of the second period before we get any more shenanigans, and it’s Jordin Tootoo (because of course it is) who gets under Detroit’s skin.

Mathieu Dandenault grabs Tootoo after a hit from the latter. Despite the Red Wings defender not being known as a fighter, this winds up being one of the better scraps of the night. The two trade punches for nearly 30 seconds before Tootoo gets the left hand free and starts throwing big shots. The linesmen step in and break it up.

HockeyFights.com Voted Winner: Tootoo (83% of the vote)

Fight 5: Hall (NSH) vs. Chelios (DET) AND
Fight 6: Walker (NSH) vs. Maltby (DET) - Part II

The third period is where things start to get a little hairy.

The craziest sequence of the game actually starts with a 5-on-3 power play for the Preds. David Legwand scored to put the Preds up 4-2, and as Adam Hall skates past the Red Wings’ net to celebrate, Chris Chelios grabs him in an admitted act of frustration.

“In the beginning, I think it was about being aggressive,” Chelios told The Tennessean afterwards. “In the end, it was about being frustrated.”

There wasn’t a ton to the fight itself. Hall and Chelios mostly just grappled, only trading a couple of jabs.

But while THAT was going on...

Walker gave a little “drive-by” shot to Maltby’s face, reigniting their issues from earlier in the game. Maltby took exception and dropped Walker to the ice.

Walker promptly responds by, to quote Dwayne Johnson...

CHECKING HIM INTO THE SMACKDOWN HOTEL.

Walker and Maltby both got ejected for this being their second altercation, Maltby got a second game misconduct for reasons not entirely clear, Walker and Chelios each got an extra 2:00 for roughing... and just when the refs thought they had it all broken up...

Steve Yzerman Has a Meltdown

Yzerman had already taken referee Mike Leggo off his Christmas card list by this point after the earlier unsportsmanlike conduct call. Just moments before the goal-fight sequence, Yzerman got called for another unsportsmanlike, which led the Preds’ two-man advantage.

While Leggo and company were sorting out the sequence in the official’s area, Yzerman leaned out of the box and informed the officials he did not appreciate the quality of their work in the contest.

Well, it was that... but with many more f-bombs involved.

Leggo promptly ejected Yzerman from the game, and the last image fans had of the Captain was #19 being ushered to the locker room, all still while berating Leggo with language that would make a sailor blush.

Yzerman’s night was done after 34 penalty minutes. It was a jarring, albeit entertaining, reversal of character from what fans were used to seeing. Yzerman made a career out of being the calming, soft-spoken influence on the Red Wings roster. But it took just one call for him to lose his ever-loving mind.

So to recap, at 10:50 of the Third Period, we had...

  • A goal
  • Two fights
  • 74 penalty minutes
  • Three ejections

Oh yeah and by the way...

HockeyFights.com Voted Winner(s): Hall (75% of the vote) and Walker (87%)

Fight 7: Hall (NSH) vs. Shanahan (DET)

At this point, it’s just frustration for the Red Wings.

Rem Murray had just scored an empty net goal to essentially seal the game for the Preds. Murray and his linemates do the regular celebration get-together. They skate towards their bench, when Brendan Shanahan skates up, gloves off, and grabs Hall from behind, in some apparent retaliation for Hall’s earlier bout with Chelios.

Shanahan and Hall spend about 45 seconds trading jabs, neither of them doing much damage. However, their battle did feature one of the more badass moments we’ve seen in any NHL fight.

The two get separated, stare each other down, readjust their jersey sleeves, then charge back at each other for 15 more seconds of action.

As the linesmen jump in, Shanahan tries to throw some more punches over an official’s arm. They’re eventually pulled away from each other.

HockeyFights.com Voted Winner: Shanahan (90% of the vote)

Fight 8: Stevenson (NSH) vs. Dandenault (DET)

After Shanahan wanted revenge for Hall’s fight with Chelios, Stevenson decided to get some retribution for Dandenault jumping Tootoo earlier in the game.

With just 45 minutes left in the game, Stevenson puts Dandenaut in a headlock and starts throwing uppercuts. With the Wings’ defender put in a bad spot, the linesmen rush in and break things up.

HockeyFights.com Voted Winner: Stevenson (97% of the vote). How this isn’t 100%, I don’t know.

Fight 9: Allison (NSH) vs. McCarty (DET)

In terms of pure fight quality, we saved the best for last.

This is just 20 seconds of pure action. Allison and McCarty go toe-to-toe and trade rapid fire shots until the two get tired. As the linesmen step in, the two have a little moment of respect with some taps on the chest before they’re escorted to the locker rooms.

The crowd and the (few) players left on the bench show their appreciation with a round of applause and stick taps.

Simply put, they don’t make battles like this anymore.

HockeyFights.com Voted Winner: McCarty (57% of the votes.) This should probably be a draw.

Oh yeah... a Game Happened...

By the way, there WAS a game between all the rough stuff. The Red Wings took an early 1-0 lead before the Preds rattled off three unanswered goals in the second period, two from captain Greg Johnson, and the third from a repaired Scott Hartnell. The Wings got one back, which was then followed by the above mentioned 5-on-3 goal. Brett Hull brought the Wings within one again before Murray’s game-sealing goal.

By the time the final buzzer sounded, we had a combined 210 penalty minutes (still a record for a Preds game), nine fighting majors, and the start of a legitimate rivalry.

“We’re in the same division, and we play a lot of times,” Adam Hall told The Tennessean. “This was the first one, so maybe both teams wanted to set the tone for what it’s going to be like this year.”

There wasn’t much drama (at least in terms of fighting) in the following contests, but the game did its job. The Predators had sent a message: they weren’t the Red Wings’ little brothers anymore; they were a physical team that was going to force itself into the Central Division picture that year.

Every team has a game or two you can point to and say “THIS is the moment that brought the team together.” This would be one of those situations for Nashville. The Preds wound up going on a mid-season run that would spur their first playoff appearance in team history (against — of course — the Red Wings), and more importantly, would define the scrappy, no-nonsense style of play that followed the Preds all the way up to their Stanley Cup run.

Oh yeah, one other noteworthy thing happened this night.

It was the first known instance of a catfish being thrown onto the ice in Nashville.

A night for the history books indeed.