The Legend of the Octopus is a sports tradition during Detroit Red Wings home playoff games where octopuses are thrown onto the ice surface. The origins of the activity go back to the 1952 playoffs, when a National Hockey League team played two best-of-seven series to capture the Stanley Cup. The octopus, having eight arms, symbolized the number of playoff wins necessary for the Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup. The practice started April 15, 1952 when Pete and Jerry Cusimano, brothers and storeowners in Detroit's Eastern Market, hurled an octopus into the rink of The Old Red Barn.[1] The team swept the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens en route to winning the championship, as well as winning two of the next three championships.

Since 1952 the practice has persisted with each passing year. In one 1995 game, fans threw 36 octopuses, including a specimen weighing 38 pounds (17 kg).[2] The Red Wings' unofficial mascot is a purple octopus named Al, and during playoff runs two of these mascots are also hung from the rafters of the Joe Louis Arena, symbolizing the 16 wins now needed to win the Stanley Cup. It has become such an accepted part of the team's lore, that fans have developed what is considered proper etiquette and technique for throwing an octopus onto the ice.[3]

Events Inspired by the Octopus[edit | edit source]

The octopus tradition has launched a couple of other object-tossing manias. Some[who?] believe that the tossing of these objects will bring good luck to their favorite team.

During the 1995 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the hype about the Wings' run to the Finals grew, a fan at the Boston Garden threw a lobster onto the ice during a playoff game between the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils. Lobster harvests are often identified with the Bruins' home region, the New England States, particularly Maine.

When in the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals the Red Wings took on the New Jersey Devils and Devils fan threw a fish in Brendan Byrne arena after the Devils scored a goal.

During the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs, fans of the Florida Panthers threw thousands of toy rats on the ice whenever the Panthers scored, instigated by the octopus toss and the story of Scott Mellanby killing a rat in the Panthers' dressing room.[4] The NHL eventually cracked down on the rat-tossing because of the lengthy delays they could cause, and it ceased altogether shortly after the Panthers' Cup Finals run ended.[citation needed]

Ten years later, during the opening-round series between the Wings and the Edmonton Oilers, an Edmonton radio host suggested throwing Alberta beef on the ice before the game. Oilers fans continued throwing steaks, even at away games, resulting in several arrests at the away cities.[5]

In the 2002–03 season, the Nashville Predators fans began throwing catfish onto their home ice, in response to the Red Wings tradition. The first recorded instance occurred on October 26, 2002 in a game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators.[6] Jessica Hanley, who helps clean the ice in the Gaylord Entertainment Center, has told the press that: They are so gross. They're huge, they're heavy, they stink and they leave this slimy trail on the ice. But, hey, if it's good for the team, I guess we can deal with it. This "tradition" continues, in Game 3 of the 2008 Western Conference quarterfinals matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators the hometown Nashville fans threw 4 catfish onto the ice.[7]

During Game 4 of the 2007 Stanley Cup Western Division Semifinals between the Detroit Red Wings and home-team San Jose Sharks, a Sharks fan threw a 4-foot leopard shark onto the ice at the HP Pavilion at San Jose after the Sharks scored their first goal with 2 minutes left in the first period.[8]

During the 2008 Stanley Cup finals, in which the Red Wings defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, seafood wholesalers in Pittsburgh, led by Wholey's Fish Market, began requiring identification from customers who purchased octopuses, refusing to sell to buyers from Michigan.

In the first game of the 2009-10 playoff series between the Detroit Red Wings and the Phoenix Coyotes, a rubber snake was thrown onto the ice following the Coyotes' Keith Yandle's goal[9].

In the second game of the 2009-10 playoff series between the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks, a small shark was tossed to the ice with an octopus inside its mouth.[10]

Twirling Ban[edit | edit source]

Al Sobotka, the Joe Louis Arena head ice manager and one of the two Zamboni drivers, is the person who retrieves the thrown octopuses from the ice. After he retrieves an octopus, he has been known to twirl it above his head as he walks across the ice rink to the Zamboni entrance.

On April 19, 2008, NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell sent a memo to the Detroit Red Wings organization that forbids Zamboni drivers from cleaning up any octopuses thrown onto the ice and imposes a $10,000 fine for violating the mandate.[11] The linesmen will instead perform any clean-up duties. In an email to the Detroit Free Press NHL spokesman Frank Brown justified the ban because "matter flies off the octopus and gets on the ice" when Al Sobotka swings it above his head.[12] In an article describing the effects of the new rule the Detroit Free Press dubbed the NHL's prohibition as "Octopus-gate".[13] By the beginning of the third round of the 2008 playoffs the NHL loosened the ban to allow for the octopus twirling to take place at the Zamboni entrance.[14]

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