It’s playoff time, and that means one thing in Detroit: octopus.
The tradition of throwing octopus on the ice began in 1952. Brothers Pete and Gerry Cusimano, being from a fish market family, thought that an octopus would be the perfect good luck symbol for the Red Wings. It had eight legs, and the Wings needed eight straight wins for the Stanley Cup. Made sense to them, anyways.
They brought their first octopus to Game 3 against the Canadiens. Pete threw the octopus on the ice after Gordie Howe scored his first goal. Official George Hays, one of the portlier linesman, skated over to remove it from the ice. When he reached down and saw what it was, both skates came off the ice and he skated away.
Seeing this, Detroit defenceman Marcel Pronovost skated over and hit it with his stick. This caused one of the tentacles to move, and Pronovost decided to skate elsewhere. The players stood around nervously until one of the staff removed the octopus with a shovel.
The good luck charm worked, it seems, as Detroit did win in eight straight. Pete and Gerry’s dad, however, didn’t care for octopus throwing. At the time, octopus were a delicacy imported from Portugal and cost $4.00 a pound. Every time he saw them take an octopus to the rink, he’d complain that they were throwing away a meal.
So if you want to throw an octopus (and I don't want to know how you smuggled it in, thanks), the key to getting the octopus onto the ice easily is a good pre-game boil. “If you try to throw an octopus raw, it tends to get away from you,” Pete told journalist George Plimpton. “It’s slippery; hasn’t got any bones or anything. If you boil it, the octopus shrivels up a bit and you can get a handle on it. Even so, you have to sling the octopus stiff-armed and kind of sideways, like tossing a hand grenade.”
Pete was once asked if he’d ever attempted to throw the octopus at someone. “Once I tried to hit Ted Kennedy of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Missed him and hit Vic Lynn of the Red Wings. As I was saying, it’s hard to throw an octopus with pinpoint accuracy,” he replied.
Ever since then, throwing octopus during Wings’ play-off games has become a tradition. Even instituting a $500 fine plus arrest hasnn’t deterred fans. Unofficially the Red Wings are fine with the tradition, as Matt Saler, who blogs at On the Wings discovered last year when he spoke with Officer Bullock of the Detroit Police Department's Central Events :
“According to Officer Bullock, they're fine with the tradition, and even like it. And I gather the police aren't big fans of enforcing it either. It's up to the officer's discretion, so it's possible fans may still get away with it at times. But with NHL officials pushing for it, it's less safe to throw than it ever has been.” (thanks to Saler and Puck Daddy for this quote.)
Unfortunately though, the league is now stifling the tradition both by requesting police arrest fans and by banning the icekeeper, Al Sobotka from swinging it over his head. If he does swing it on the ice, it’s a $10,000 fine. According to Commissioner Bettman, the ban came about because opposing teams complained about the “gunk” left on the ice. So far, there is no conclusive proof that any “gunk” has caused an issue for players. Mr. Sobotka now swings the octopus off ice, but still within fan view.
Leave the tradition alone, NHL. You need all the goodwill you can get.