Octopus Trials: NHL Continues To Fight the Tradition in Detroit

Mike SuggsContributor IApril 16, 2011

DETROIT - MAY 24:  An octopus hangs above the ice before game one of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Finals between the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Joe Louis Arena on May 24, 2008 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

An overreaction.  That is what comes to my mind when thinking about the treatment of a certain Red Wings fan during Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes.  As every hockey fan in possibly the entire world knows, it is a long-standing tradition that Red Wings fans throw octopi on the ice during home games, especially during the playoffs.  

Originally, the octopus represented the eight wins that were necessary in order to win the Stanley Cup, and it is a tradition that is still going strong nearly 60 years later.  In more recent years, the NHL has tried to ban the twirling of the octopus by Al Sobotka because of the "gunk" that flies on to the ice when he does this.  The ban has been loosened to allow octopus swinging at the Zamboni entrance, and for the most part, there has been no controversy...until Wednesday night that is.  

During Game 1 between Detroit and Phoenix, a Red Wings fan threw an octopus on the ice (one of four or five that hit the ice that night), and he was ejected from the game.  The ejection wasn't an issue because that's part of the tradition at this point, but it was later revealed by Brian Hickey at Deadspin.com (who also spoke to the fan) that this fan was also fined $500 and received a citation from the police.  

Apparently, the NHL approached the DPD before the series started and told them to apprehend and fine any fan that throws octopi on the ice during a game.  The explanation from Frank Brown of the NHL was that, "It's a safety issue. You throw stuff on the ice, people get their skates caught in it, they fall down and hurt themselves.  It's wrong.  That's a problem" (reported by Greg Wyshynski at Yahoo Sports).  

There are a couple city and state laws that prohibit the damaging of the ice surface, and the injury of players/fans, but I hardly think either of these laws are being broken. Honestly, it may take a couple of minutes to clean off the ice, but it's hardly damaging the ice.  Secondly, the fans don't throw the octopi at the players or other fans, so no issue there either.  The only time the octopi are ever thrown are during play stoppages, so it's not like it's breaking up a play or scoring chance either.  

In reality, the explanation from the NHL is embarrassingly weak.  Players spit and shoot snot rockets all over the playing surface during games that probably has the same effect as octopi, and these bodily fluids don't even get cleaned up until intermission, while octopi get cleaned up immediately.  Are we going to ban players from doing this during games now too?  I mean if we are talking about player safety you can never be too careful (sarcasm).   

This tradition is a harmless one, and why the NHL feels the need to be so overbearing about it is beyond me.  As was previously stated, all has been well for the last couple of years since the ban was loosened, so that begs the question of, why the sudden change of heart?  The throwing of the octopus is in the same vain as saying "Let's Go Red Wings!"  It's just to inspire the team and get the crowd going, which if I'm not mistaken, is a huge part of playoff hockey.

In all likelihood, Red Wings fans will continue to throw octopi regardless of what the NHL says.  They know it's harmless, and so do the players.  Heck, even the security officials at the Joe encourage the throwing and let people down specifically for the cause.  According to the police, they have to see the fan in order to apprehend them, so maybe the DPD officers will simply look away, just to do their hometown fans a solid.  

Is this issue the end of the world?  No. Am I more invested in it because I'm a Detroit fan? Yes.  However, every other hockey fan I've spoken to (Red Wings fans and otherwise) has agreed with my sentiments, and I think most others would follow suit.  

Gary Bettman, you need to stop this pointless errand and stop trying to micromanage EVERYTHING.  To actually suggest these players are in serious danger because of an octopus is really over the top.  My suggestion to my fellow Wings fans is to boil the octopi before the game.  That's how it was originally done, and it will also get rid of the slime.  Hopefully, nothing more will come of this, and the NHL will come to its senses on this matter.


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