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Did the Octopi Save the Detroit Red Wings’ Season?



Derek Lalonde, Red Wings coach

The Detroit Red Wings octopus throw might be moving from entertaining tradition to effective strategy.

When brothers Jerry and Pete Cusimano started the tradition of throwing an octopus on the ice during Game 4 of the 1952 Stanley Cup Final, they certainly could not have envisioned that 72 years later it would contribute to an important Red Wings victory.

On Monday, Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde said two well-timed octopus tosses helped him shorten his bench when his team rallied from a 4-1 deficit to win 5-4 in overtime over Montreal. That kept Detroit’s playoff hopes alive. Now, the Red Wings have to win tonight in Montreal.

“We were pretty much down to nine forwards down the stretch,” Lalonde said. “We got a little lucky with some timeouts and some octopi in the ice to get some breathers. Assist to the fan base there, good feel on what we needed for energy.”

It seems a bit spooky that this happened on April 15. That is the anniversary of the first octopus thrown. The Cusimano brothers viewed the eight octopus tentacles as representing the eight wins needed to win the Stanley Cup during the Original Six era. The Terry Sawchuk-led Red Wings went 8-0 to win the Cup in 1952.

The reason it helped the Red Wings is it causes a slight delay to pick-up the dead octopus and to scrape the ice a bit to cover up the fluid that is leaking out. Twice, it gave the Red Wings extra time to rest their overworked top players.

Two Better Than One?

And by the way, two octopi total 16 tentacles. That’s how many wins required to win the Stanley Cup in today’s NHL. There’s some logic attached to tossing two.

You have fans in Detroit today joking that the octopus throws were the turning point in the game because of the timeouts and because fans got revved up. The octopus toss often creates  momentum.

But we jest about this becoming a strategy moving forward. The NHL would never allow that. It wasn’t long ago, that octopi were constantly going splat on the ice at Joe Louis Arena. Former Red Wings arena boss Al Sobotka would pick them up off the ice and twirl them overhead to get the crowd into the game.

The NHL put a stop to that — warning the Red Wings that they could be penalized if the practice didn’t stop. At that point, it became clear that the NHL was going to only allow one or two tosses for the sake of tradition. And Detroit employees are allowed to twirl the octopus overhead on the ice because bodily fluids splatter everywhere. They can swing it overheard when they leave the playing surface. TV camera operators know to follow them.

It makes you wonder if some Detroit fan will sneak one into the Montreal arena tonight.