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League's Octopus Crackdown Proves Bettman Still Hates Hockey Fans

Sophie Pustil |
April 17, 2011 | 4:11 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer


Al the Octopus hangs in the Joe Louis Arena rafters as a nod to Detroit's tradition. (Mary Ann Yoder, Creative Commons)
Al the Octopus hangs in the Joe Louis Arena rafters as a nod to Detroit's tradition. (Mary Ann Yoder, Creative Commons)
There are no traditions like sports traditions, and one of the best is the octopi hitting the ice in Detroit come playoff time.

The custom began back in 1952 when there were still only six teams in the National Hockey League, and it took just eight wins (two best-of-seven series) to win the Stanley Cup.

Pete and Jerry Cusimano, two brothers who owned a fish market in Detroit, took an octopus to the first game of the first round and threw it onto the ice, each tentacle representing one of the wins the team needed to go all the way. The Red Wings swept both series in 1952, won the Cup in eight straight games, and the rest is history.

Since then, the octopus has become the unofficial Red Wings mascot for the playoffs. I’m not even a Wings fan, but when that first octopus hit the ice at Detroit’s first game against Phoenix Wednesday night, I couldn’t have been happier; it was time for the playoffs.

But just a few days ago Deadspin published an article stating that one of the Octopus tossers was ejected from Wednesday’s game and fined $500 by Detroit police for throwing an octopus during a stoppage in play.

The NHL does have an ordinance prohibiting patrons from throwing things onto the ice for safety reasons. They also have a history of trying to put a stop to the octopus movement, having previously threatened to fine the Red Wings $10,000 if arena worker Al Sobotka continued to twirl octopi over his head as a rally cry before home games, as per his own tradition -- reportedly due to teams complaining about the "gunk" it left behind.

To those teams: if Johan Franzen can return to a game looking like this, I feel like it’s not too much to expect the opposition to man up about cephalopods.

In 60 years of tradition, there have been no reports of a playing surface being affected in any way that threatens player safety. Besides, having won the Cup four times in the last 14 years, the Red Wings don't seem to be all that bothered by on-ice octopus residue.

Telling rink security just prior to the game to start enforcing a rule that for the last 59 years the police in Hockeytown were more than willing to turn a blind eye to is a new low for the NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Hiding behind the guise of the necessity to prohibit all items from being thrown onto the ice surface during a game also comes off as just a little hypocritical, especially when a similar tradition was featured in one of the more recent "NHL on Versus" commercials.

You can’t have it both ways, Mr. Bettman. You can’t ban a unique tradition that defines the fanbase of one of the most beloved and talented franchises in the NHL on the grounds that it’s endangering players, then use another one that technically does the exact same thing in an ad campaign for the NHL.

Puck Daddy Radio co-host Rob Pizzo suggested on his show that Detroit fans start up an octopus toss legal defense fund to cover the fines for the brave committed souls who aren’t going to let the league ruin 59 years of tradition. Red Wings fans – make this happen and I’ll write you the first check.


To reach Sophie Pustil, click here. To read more of her thoughts on the NHL, check out her blog, Gary Roberts: Baby Eater.



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