May 23, 2008
With Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings set for Joe Louis Arena on Saturday night, angst over one of the postseason's biggest controversies continues to linger in the Motor City: The NHL's decision to ban octopus twirling on the ice.
Tossing octopi on the ice has been a Detroit hockey tradition dating back to 1952, and longtime arena operations manager Al Sobotka has been whipping around cephalopods to whip Wings fans into a frenzy since 1991. But back in the first round of the playoffs, the NHL vowed to hit the team with a $10,000 fine if Sobotka or anyone else dared twirl an octopus thrown onto the playing surface. The decision sparked massive and immediate fan protests, but the policy has remained in place.
This week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman defended the League's decision on WDFN's "The Stoney and Wojo Show," claiming the twirl ban is an issue of safety:
"Actually, there's a very good reason for it. We haven't fined or given a delay of game penalty for the throwing of the octopus because we understand and respect the tradition. Having said that, when you swing the octopus around - and I don't know the exact term for it -- but octopus 'gunk' gets on the ice and occasionally has gotten on the players -- the goaltenders -- as it goes by. Occasionally, when it freezes on the ice, it creates a potentially hazardous situation for the players. It's not about interfering with a tradition; it's about making sure nobody gets it in their eyes, like a goaltender nearby, or that nobody blows out a knee getting caught on some frozen gunk."
Somehow, blowing out a knee on octopus goo has escaped us on injury reports for the last 17 years.
The Detroit News has a terrific mini-documentary that details octopus tossing history, and the passion, the sights and the smells that go along with it. While Sobotka's great on-ice tradition has been halted, the News reports he can still swing the octopi on the concourse.