by Gary Samson
Throw Out the Fish!
His name is Travis Sawayer, but you may know him as "the fish man." When the UNH men's hockey team is playing at the Whittemore Center, he can usually be found in the front row of Section 120, ready to toss out the fish after UNH's first goal.
"It goes way back in my fraternity," says Sawayer, a sophomore and Zeta Chi brother. "We used to have to buy the fish, but now it's donated by a local fish market. We pick it up on Friday. Some people complain about the smell, because the fish sits in the entryway to our house in a plastic bag--no ice, nothing--until the game."
According to Bob Norton, a former UNH assistant coach, the fish-tossing tradition began in the early 1970s. "It goes back to when we were playing Bowdoin," Norton says. "Of course they were in Division II, and our program had gone way past theirs. I remember (the UNH fans) threw out this little dinky thing and they called it a Division II fish. I guess they were trying to tell Bowdoin they weren't worthy of a first-rate fish."
Andy Buckman customarily removes the fish from the ice. A former Whittemore Center employee, he now works in Exeter, but still makes the trip to Durham on game nights. And what does the custom symbolize to him? "The explanation I've been given is it's the fans telling the opposing goalie to fish the puck out of the net," he says.
There are many famous fish stories. For example, there's the time the UNH mascot, Wild E. Cat, attempted to throw the fish in Snively Arena. Instead of landing on the ice, the fish hit a Yale assistant coach. "He was an Italian guy, and they called him the Godfather," UNH coach Dick Umile '72 relates. "They now call him the Codfather. The guy came up to me after the game, and I apologized. What could I say? It slipped."
One of Umile's favorite fish incidents occurred in the early 1990s. At that time, the home team received a penalty if fans threw objects on the ice. "At all these different rinks people were (throwing) things--tennis balls, newspapers --and it was really holding up the game," the coach recalls. "It's the Maine weekend, and the cops won't let the kid in with the fish. I'm in the office before the game, and the students come to get me. So I go down there, get the fish from the cops, and we're walking in with the fish in the bag. The kids say, 'But coach, we're going to get a penalty.' I say, 'Don't worry about it. We'll kill the penalty. Just throw the fish.'"
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