It all began in 1952 when the NHL playoffs were a mere two rounds of best-of-seven and a team needed only eight victories to claim the silver bowl. Detroit was at the height of its powers, led by the dynamic duo of Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay, backed by goalie Terry Sawchuk, and loaded with plenty of talent up front and on defence.
As a measure of good luck, Peter Cusimano, an owner of a local fish market in the Motor City, tossed an octopus on the ice at the start of game one of the Detroit-Toronto playoff series. An octopus had eight limbs, and the animal served as good luck for the Red Wings’ playoff run. The team went on to sweep the Maple Leafs in the semi-finals and Montreal in the finals to win the Cup, and the legend of the octopus began.
DETROIT’S OCTOPUS NHL Photo Gallery
The superstition of the playoff octopus toss has continued to this day, although the NHL tried to snuff the tradition out several years ago in connection with the rat tossing in Florida that began in 1996. Panthers fans were tossing plastic rodents onto the ice after every goal because the team’s captain, Scott Mellanby, had found and killed a rat in the team’s dressing room. The problem was, however, that the rat-tossing celebrations got out of control. Fans started to toss the rats onto the ice after each and every goal in the playoffs, and then so many fans tossed so many thousands of the critters that the game was delayed several minutes each time.
The NHL instituted a rule whereby the home team would be penalized two minutes for delay of game because of such antics, and the rat tossing stopped. But Detroit fans realized they, too, could hurt their team if an octopus cleanup constituted a delay of game. So, for a short while, until the rat tossing had quelled, the octopi enjoyed a stay of execution in Detroit. But the superstition has found renewed life and flourishes as fans have discovered referees’ reluctance to penalize the home team now that the rat tossing has been eliminated.
Detroit has been the most successful team in the NHL over the last decade, so anyone wanting to see the toss in person need only attend a playoff game at the Joe Louis Arena.
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