How the Detroit Red Wings octopus tradition got its start

Photo credit: NHL.com

The tradition of fans throwing octopi on the ice at Detroit Red Wings games is one of sports most beloved (and strange) traditions. How and why did it start?

Hockey is full of traditions like fans throwing hats on the ice, playoff beards, handshake lines – the list goes on and on. One of the strangest (and certainly the smelliest), began on April 15th, 1952 – the night the first octopus was thrown on the ice at a Detroit Red Wings game.

It was all started by Pete and Jerry Cusimano, whose family owned a seafood business in Detroit. The playoffs were a bit different during the time of the Cusimano’s seafood store, as during the “original six” era, eight playoff wins were required to win the Stanley Cup instead of the sixteen needed today. In 1952, the Red Wings were steamrolling through the playoffs, having swept the Toronto Maple Leafs, and then found themselves up three games to none against the Montreal Canadiens. The Cusimano brothers were huge Red Wings fans and wanted to come up with a good luck charm to help their team finish the sweep of the Habs and take the cup.

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Realizing that an octopus has eight legs, and their team needed an eight win, it somehow made sense to the Cusimanos that throwing the creature on the ice would get the job done. With that in mind, they half boiled an octopus until it was a deep red, and they then proceeded to smuggle it into the Olympia for game four against Montreal (the Olympia was the Red Wings home arena at the time). The Cusimanos did indeed make their famous toss, and sure enough, the Red Wings completed the sweep and lifted the Stanley Cup that night. With one toss, a tradition was born that lasts to this very day.

Fortunately, players or referees do not normally get hit by the flying octopus, but it has happened. During one particularly heated game against Toronto, Pete Cusimano decided he was going to toss one of his eight legged good luck charms at Ted Kennedy of the Maple Leafs. He missed the intended target, but did not miss Kennedy’s teammate Vic Lynn – the octopus hit him directly in the face! There is no record if Lynn ever ate seafood again….

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