It’s a ritual every April in Detroit during the playoffs.
No, not the tossing of octopus on the ice as that seems to happen all season long now. It’s the controversy that erupts when the NHL steps in to to curtail the amount of not-so fresh seafood takes flight and lands on the ice at Joe Louis Arena.
This year things have gotten a bit more high profile thanks to a report on Deadspin about a Wings fan who was allowed to enter the arena showing the arena staff that he had an octopus in his possession to then toss on the ice. Problems erupted for him moments later as he was then kicked out of the game and given a citation and fined $500 for living up to the annual tradition.
Craig Custance of The Sporting News notes that the Red Wings are upholding a well known NHL rule that the throwing of objects onto the ice is prohibited and that their arena staff were just following the rules. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has the most sensible (and delicious) take on the whole controversy.
“I don’t know anything about it,” he said. “I like calamari as much as the next guy. I don’t like batter on it, I like it spicy… it’s part of tradition here.”
Of course, there’s some inherent hypocrisy in that rule since the tossing of hats on the ice for a player scoring a hat trick is embraced and welcomed by the league. Of course, the catch there is that hats aren’t thrown on the ice for every goal. Before the start of Game 1 in Detroit numerous octopi hit the ice. Throwing one as symbolism was always the norm in Detroit but you know how things get when people are excited. More octopi means more problems and that’s precisely what that one fan got for his ill-timed cephalopod hurl.
Red Wings fans, as you might expect, are taking this as a direct slap in the face of tradition. After all, the octopus is embraced in Detroit and is part of their pregame introductions and is even highlighted on the Red Wings website. Matt Saler of On The Wings is hot on the case and it turns out that Detroit Police acted out at the prompting of the NHL.
Officer Bullock informed me that the enforcement of Municipal Code 38-5-4 is at the request of the NHL. Evidently, police supervisors were informed Wednesday night, either before or during the game, by League representatives that they don’t want anything thrown on the ice. An officer has to witness the throw and nab the thrower on the spot, but it’s something they can and will enforce. Apparently, distance from players is not an issue: any octopus on the ice is grounds for ejection and a fine. I asked if it applied to hats thrown down for a hat trick and Officer Bullock pointed out it’d be much harder to enforce on hundreds/thousands of hats versus a few octopi.
The interesting part is that the Wings are not the ones asking for it. According to Officer Bullock, they’re fine with the tradition, and even like it. And I gather the police aren’t big fans of enforcing it either. It’s up to the officer’s discretion, so it’s possible fans may still get away with it at times. But with NHL officials pushing for it, it’s less safe to throw than it ever has been. Previously, it may have been a bit of an empty threat. Now it has teeth.
It’s a good point that it’s tougher to enforce hundreds of fans throwing hats versus a few with gooey octopi but the Devil’s Advocate in me wonders if this might have the reverse effect on the fans. After all, Wings fans are well noted for having a bit of a chip on their shoulder for the NHL so what happens if rather than one octopus hitting the ice before the game you have a hundred. That’s a lot of bad sushi and a lot of headaches for the police in the arena to try and get a handle on.
James Mirtle of the Globe & Mail gets word from NHL spokesman Frank Brown about what their take on things is and it’s odd to say the least.
“NHL security did not direct that this person be arrested or ejected. We do have a prohibition against throwing things to the ice surface since this may cause a delay in game or injury to players or others working on the ice surface.”
Well that doesn’t tell us anything. As far as we’ve ever heard, octo-goo has never led to any injuries of any kind at all. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but after 59 years, I think we’ve got enough of a sample size to say that the chances of something happening is pretty slim.
How about this for a solution to make everyone happy and keep tradition alive:
You throw one octopus before the game and you let Al Sobotka, Detroit’s famous Zamboni driver and octopus swinger, retrieve the eight-legged freak and give it a good twirl heading off the ice. Since Sobotka was banned from doing that on the ice in recent years, just give the fans that one treat and knock it off with the optics that the league hates its traditions no matter how slimy and gross they might be. After all, it’s been going on since 1952 in Detroit, this isn’t something that was made up in the last five years just to get attention.