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Don't mess with the octopus

April 19, 2011
By Keith Shelton - Sportswriter ( , Daily Press

A recent turn of events has renewed the ever raging war between NHL fans and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Once again, as is usually the case around playoff time, Bettman has zeroed in on Detroit Red Wings fans. During Game One of Detroit's first round playoff series against Phoenix, a fan in the crowd was escorted out of the building and fined $500 for throwing an octopus onto the ice. This was after multiple octopi were already thrown throughout the game with no recourse of action.

The NHL's explanation is that players could slip and get hurt from the leftover octopus goo once the cephalopod is scraped off the ice. Of course, this was never a concern from 1952-2010. Only now in 2011, by mandate of comissioner Bettman, are players' health concerning octopi, even an issue.

The fabled octopus toss is one of the NHL's deepest traditions. It is a tradition limited to the Detroit Red Wings of course, but througout the last 59 years, it has been woven throughout NHL lore.

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Keith Shelton

In 1952, store owners and brothers Pete and Jerry Cusimano, avid Red Wings fans, got a wave of inspiration. At the time, eight wins were required to win the Stanley Cup and being that the brothers owned a fish market, it seemed rather obvious. Eight legs on an octopus, eight wins to lift the cup. With that, at the start of the playoffs that year, the brothers tossed an octopus onto the ice of Olympia Stadium. The Red Wings went 8-0 through the playoffs that year, winning the Cup as well as two of the next three championships and a tradition was born.

Ever since then, Red Wings fans have embraced the tradition, tossing octopi during the postseason. However in recent years, comissioner Bettman has sought to put the kabosh on the toss.

By 2008, the NHL put a ban on "twirling" of the octopus - a habit of zamboni driver Al Sobotka. Whenever one was tossed, Sobotka would scoop the octopus up, raise it above his head and give it a little twirl to the roar of the crowd. Now, a $10,000 fine has been imposed if he is caught doing it. Cleanup duty has been relegated to the linesmen.

The following year, the NHL toyed with a delay of game penalty for the Red Wings each time an octopus was thrown, but it never gained traction and the tossing continued.

Now the personal fine has been introduced and some think this may be the end of the beloved tradition.

However, several octopi were still thrown during Game Two with no reports of fines. Red Wings fans wait with anticipation to see if the 8-legged mascot will make an appearance in Phoenix. None were known to be thrown during Game 3, but what about Game 4? Red Wings fans will, of course, go to great lengths to protect their tradition. Last year, there was a tale of an octopus tosser who was arrested in San Jose. Undaunted, the tossers friends found a bar in the area, where Red Wings fans had gathered. They told the tale of how their friend had been arrested for keeping tradition alive. The bar patrons all got out their wallets and the group left the bar with bail money in hand.

Opposing cities have gone to great lengths in the past to prevent Red Wings fans from tossing the octopus in their city. In 2008, during the Stanley Cup Finals, Pittsburgh store owners refused the sale of octopi on game nights. Stadium security kept an ever watchful eye for any sign of octopi, but somehow one found its way onto the ice of Mellon Arena.

Of course with the influx of efforts to squash the tradition, Red Wings fans are reminded more than ever to keep proper octopus etiquette in mind. The octopus should be dead and boiled to remove excess moisture and slime. It should be thrown only after a Red Wings goal (although they have been known to fly during pregame, postgame and between periods) and finally it should be thrown away from any players, officials, fans or personnel.

Today, talk has circulated of a paypal octupus fund for those who are fined for the toss. A t-shirt company called "Down with Detroit" has printed shirts with the slogan, "save an octopus, toss a Bettman."

Try as the NHL might, it will take more than a $500 fine to kill this tradition.



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