When did NHL fans start throwing animals onto the ice?

The tradition of throwing an octopus onto the ice started at a Detroit Red Wings game on April 15, 1952. It’s a pretty fascinating tradition, and over the decades, it has spread to other NHL teams.

We can thank brothers Pete and Jerry Cusimano for coming up with the idea. They owned a fish market in Detroit, and by mid-April, the Red Wings were in a great position: They led the Stanley Cup Final series 3-0 over the Montreal Canadiens. They’d won seven straight games, but they needed one more win to come home with the Cup.

Jerry figured the easiest way to ensure the victory was to...throw a dead octopus onto the ice.

“Here's the thing with eight legs,” Jerry reportedly told Pete. “Why don't we throw it on the ice and maybe the Wings'll win eight straight?"

After Gordie Howe scored the first goal of the game, the brothers threw out the octopus (they’d boiled it prior to the game to ensure that it wouldn’t stick to the ice). According to legend, the game announcer quickly warned fans not to throw any additional cephalopods:

"Octopi shall not occupy the ice. Please refrain from throwing same."

In any case, the Red Wings finished the sweep, and the strange tradition was formed. Soon, other fans were throwing octopi, and the Cusimanos became local legends.

"If you try to throw [an octopus] like a baseball, you'll throw your arm out," Pete told The Washington Post in 1998. "I would fling it sidearm like a hand grenade. One time I missed and knocked a man's hat off. When he spotted what it was hit him, he left and never came back to his seat.”

Other teams tried to adopt similar traditions with varying results. In the 1995-96 NHL season, Florida Panthers player Scott Mellanby killed a rat with his hockey stick in the locker room, then scored two goals in the team’s home opener. Soon after, Panthers fans were throwing toy rats onto the ice after every goal (prompting the NHL to issue rule changes to prevent unnecessary delays).

In 2003 (or 1999, depending on the source), Nashville Predators fans began throwing catfish onto the ice to show support for their team—and, perhaps, to show Red Wings fans they don’t hold a monopoly on the practice of throwing around dead sea creatures.

"I thought it was an octopus," former Predators owner Craig Leipold told The Associated Press of the newer tradition. "I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it was a catfish. I figured it had to be one of our fans mocking the Red Wings. I was not disappointed."

Of course, throwing anything onto the ice can cause delays, and in rule 63.4 of their official rulebook, the NHL discourages the practice. Teams can be penalized if their fans throw too many octopi, fish, rats, or other objects, and in recent years, the tradition has changed; fans usually throw items before the game starts.

But while fans can be kicked out of the arena and fined for throwing items onto the ice, the traditions are mostly tolerated. Hockey is, after all, an intense sport—and if some superstitions seem strange to outside observers, rest assured that they make total sense to dedicated fans.