Game 2 of the San Jose Sharks' Western Conference semifinal series against the Detroit Red Wings featured one of the most peculiar hockey celebrations in years: a shark with an octopus stitched into its mouth, thrown on the HP Pavilion ice after Joe Pavelski's(notes) first-period goal in what was a 4-3 Sharks victory.
That game was played on Sunday, May 2. Back on May 2, 2007, a shark also hit the ice during a San Jose/Detroit playoff game, as a response to the Wings fans' long-standing tradition of throwing octopi on the ice for their team.
The same men behind that defiant celebration returned to the Shark Tank to do it again three years later.
How did they pull it off then? How did they pull it off now? It's a tale that is equal parts heist movie and sports comedy, from security shakedowns to toxic fish to carefully orchestrated smuggling maneuvers to a large dead shark in a sporting arena.
And now it's the stuff of hockey legend.
"Alfonso Bedoya," 63, was the man who tossed the shark. (He requested we go with the pseudonym here, although the posse was exposed in coverage of their 2007 exploits.) He has been playing hockey all his life. His father, an Edmonton native, helped get youth hockey going in the Bay Area.
They attended California Golden Seals games together with their Charlie Finley ownership whimsy (green and gold skates) and allegedly served as the cradle of "The Wave." Alfonso said that's where his affinity for hockey absurdity began.
"My dad is 94. He was watching [Game 2] and he's calling me and asking if we're going to [throw the shark]," he said.
In 1994, goalie Arturs Irbe helped the San Jose Sharks upset the Detroit Red Wings in a No. 1 vs. No. 8 series; "ecstasy" for hockey fans in the Bay Area, Alfonso said. The following season took it from ecstasy to tragedy: The Red Wings swept the Sharks, and Alfonso focused his frustrations on the octopi Wings fans would toss on the ice.
"It just bugged me," said Alfonso. "And then we didn't play them again for quite a while [in the playoffs]. When we finally did, I called up my cousin and told him we have to respond to the octopus.
"We need to throw a shark on the ice. He said, 'I'm in.'"
The 2007 Shark Toss
The 2007 shark toss had its problems and its triumphs. "That wasn't very well-organized. And the shark was too big. It was horrendous," said Alfonso.
The conspirators ducked under a freeway overpass and strapped the fish to Alfonso. The shark, stuffed in a garbage bag, was literally tied to his back under a huge down coat. The weight of the thing necessitated a second rope be used to secure it, wrapped around its tail and tied to Alfonso's belt.
Alfonso, his nephew and his cousin all had tickets and went to the gate for Game 4 of the Sharks' series against Detroit. His cousin asked a question of the ticket taker, offering a moment of distraction so Alfonso could slip by with nary a query about the gigantic jacket he was wearing on an 85-degree day.
The first shark toss back in 2007 occurred in the middle of the first period. After it, Alfonso had left for an icy adult beverage when arena security personnel showed up at their seats, where his cousin and his nephew were sitting. Security kept telling those in the section that it was an informational investigation: No one was getting kicked out of the playoff game; they just wanted to know what protocols were breached to allow an adult shark through the turnstiles.
His cousin, hearing their intentions, admitted he was part of the operation.
They ejected him.
"They lied to him," said Alfonso. "Then they asked him how he got the shark in, and he said 'You're kicking me out and you think I'm gonna tell ya?' They also told him they had to bring in the hazmat team. He's like, 'IT'S A FISH.'"
Fifteen minutes later, another arena security detail sat next to Alfonso and began asking informal questions about how the shark was smuggled into the game. Alfonso, knowing what any admission of guilt would portend, told him the shark had been "growing under the ice" all that time.
Ten minutes after that, Alfonso's cell phone rang and a voice told him to look across the ice at the luxury boxes.
It was his cousin, waving at him. A random Sharks fan had to leave in an emergency and bumped into him after he was ejected. Informed that this was the shark-tossing guy, he gave him a pass to the suite. Karma rules.
The reaction to the shark toss was positive, as fans buzzed about it in the arena and around the Web afterward.
But it wasn't all positive: Some fans didn't understand why they'd throw a dead version of the team's mascot on the ice. Was it symbolic of playoff fate or something, considering the Sharks lost that game in 2007?
"This year, we decided to put an octopus in the shark's mouth. People will get that," said Alfonso, who located several mollusks at a Chinese market in San Francisco.
The 2007 experience gave them a base of knowledge heading into their 2010 attempt. For example, finding the shark proved difficult three years ago, so Alfonso and gang got on that task earlier this round: By calling a biological supply company in North Carolina, ordering three sharks that would have been used for dissection and medical examination.
When they arrived, the top fins were sliced off, as were the tails. "And there were six pages of Hazmat [expletive] about the formaldehyde stuff," he said, acknowledging that this option wasn't a workable one.
They frantically called all the fish shops in the Bay Area with little luck, as it isn't shark-fishing season. So they went to the docks again and started handing out a cell phone number to fishermen, offering $50 for a shark.
About 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, they got the call: There was a 3-foot Leopard shark waiting for them, freshly caught.
They had three tickets to the game, all in the upper deck, so they purchased two downstairs, on the blue line, for a large price tag online.
Got the tickets. Got the shark, with the previously frozen octopus literally sewn into its jaws by using a large carpet needle. The shark was then stuffed into a garbage bag.
Now, how did they get it inside?
The 2010 Shark Toss
The coat thing wasn't going to work, as Sunday was even warmer than that fateful day in 2007. So they used Foster, a lanky 6-foot-3 lacrosse player, as their smuggler: Rubber-banding the shark to his leg, securing it with duct tape and then having him wear a large, baggy pair of sweatpants over it. He shuffled along through security, which once again were distracted by the co-conspirators.
When was the shark released from the leg? During introductions, when the arena goes black and -- oh, the delicious symmetry -- a humungous shark head descends from the rafters as the players skate out. By the end of the introductions, the shark was under the seats, folded neatly in its bag and ready for launch. Because it was freshly caught, there was no odor, no fishy smell at all.
"Yeah," Alfonso said, "and we would have been [expletive]."
At 9:01 of the first period, with Detroit up 1-0, Joe Pavelski scored on the power play for San Jose. This was it. Foster, the lacrosse guy, reached down and handed Alfonso the shark. (The octopus, at this point, was literally dripping out of its mouth.) He left his seats and ran down through several rows of euphoric fans, stopping just about even at the top of the glass so he wouldn't have to put too much arc on the toss.
"As soon as people saw it, as I was carrying it, they were like 'YEAH!'" he recalled.
And then he chucked it onto the ice, watching it slide out across the blue line, where Pavelski nearly turned it into sushi with his skate blade. By that time, Alfonso was already headed back up the stairs.
He arrived at the seats and took off his teal shirt and black hat, giving them to another conspirator a few rows away. He donned a grey T-shirt, fading into the menagerie of fans, and then left for the bathroom, high-fiving an usher on the way.
How did they avoid another investigation like in 2007?
Thought of that one, too: Alfonso switched tickets with one of the upper deckers, who sat down in the lower-bowl seats formerly occupied by Alfonso and the shark with an octopus in its mouth. The arena officials visited between periods, but couldn't develop any leads on the shark-hurler.
After the Sharks' victory, the conspirators met to share a laugh and congratulate each other, like the scene at the Bellagio fountains at the end "Ocean's 11," only in a hockey arena parking lot. And with no fountains. Or Brad Pitt.
Alfonso began to see and hear the reaction to the exploit in the next 24 hours. He was surprised, for example, that no television cameras caught the shark -- surprised and suspicious, actually, that perhaps it was an intentional omission.
Will there be another chance to film a flying shark eating an octopus in Game 5 (if necessary)?
"We're retired," he said, with a laugh. "The plan went great, we didn't get thrown out, it went on the ice, it had the octopus, and nobody got caught."
Did he hope the success of this plan would inspire others?
"That was certainly our hope the first time," he said.
"I'd love for it to be a real tradition. But it's damn hard to do."