Hockey rituals can be a fun part of the game. One hockey tradition is the tendency of some fans to lob objects onto the ice. Oftentimes, the objects are symbolic of something—hats for a hat trick, for example. Detroit fans famously send octopuses spinning to the ice during the playoffs. Minor league fans toss teddy bears during the holiday season.
Reasons vary. Often the objects thrown celebrate goals. Sometimes the gesture is meant to intimidate or humiliate the opposing team. Referees and bad calls have inspired some of the more creative, and frankly, bizarre projectiles.
Al, the Red Wings Octopus
The first dead animal to bounce off the ice was an octopus at Detroit’s Olympia Arena in 1952. Jerry Cusimano and brother Pete, hoping the Red Wings would sweep the Canadiens and then the finals in eight games, tossed the eight-legged sea creature to the ice to inspire good fortune. Eight legs for eight wins. And guess what? The Red Wings won in eight straight.
Cusimano smuggled the octopus into the arena inside a set of bagpipes, naturally.
The octopus became the team’s unofficial mascot: Al the Octopus. And though Al is long gone, he’s been thoroughly merchandised and has inspired many other flying acts.
Why Do the Florida Panthers Have a Rat Mascot?
You’d imagine Florida Panthers fans would throw something cat-like onto the ice—balls of yarn, toy mice. You’d be only a little right.
Before the 1995-96 season home opener, Panther Scott Mellanby obliterated a rat in the locker room with a perfectly placed slap shot and then scored two goals with the same stick. Goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, in a moment of poetic inspiration, called Mellanby’s feat a “rat trick.”
By the time the playoffs rolled around, Panthers fans were throwing rubber rats to the ice for each Panthers goal. The ritual was so egregious that during the offseason the NHL devised a new rule penalizing home teams for delay of game with similar fan disruptions. The Panthers devised a rat mascot.
Why Do Predator Fans Throw Catfish on the Ice?
Catfish are nasty but that hasn’t stopped Predator fans from slinging them onto the rink. During the 2002-03 season, fans started throwing them onto their home ice in response to the Red Wings fans’ octopus tradition. A rink employee tasked with removing them reasoned, “They are so gross. They’re huge, they’re heavy, they stink, and they leave this slimy trail on the ice. But, hey, if it’s good for the team, I guess we can deal with it.”
Fish are a popular choice. The Harvard vs. Cornell animal rivalry began when Harvard fans tied a live chicken to the goal, poking fun at Cornell’s agriculture school. Subsequently, Cornell fans returned the favor by throwing fish at the Harvard players during introductions—fishing’s an important industry in the Boston area.
University of New Hampshire fans throw a rotten fish to mark the Wild Cat’s first goal, while San Jose Sharks fans have managed, on a couple of occasions, to get actual sharks onto the ice—dead, of course.
These days, though, the traditional objects have become predictable. You expect an octopus to hit the playoff ice in Detroit. You’d be shocked and disappointed if it didn’t. But how about a prosthetic leg? That’d get your attention.
The Flying Leg Incident
One of the frustrations of any passionate hockey fan is the way refs always make calls that benefit your opponent. Totally unfair, right?
Apparently, one anonymous Corpus Christi IceRays fan thought so, too. After a string of outrageously unjust calls, this fan just couldn’t take it anymore and heaved his prosthetic leg onto the ice in protest. Maybe he was trying to give his team a leg up on the competition. No one knows for sure. It might simply have been a knee-jerk reaction to all the unfair whistles. Either way, standing for justice is always epic.
Legendary college basketball coach Bobby Knight famously threw a chair across the Indiana Hoosier court during one of his many tantrums. But Knight isn’t the only coach who’s performed a little arena feng shui.
On January 30, 2000, Devils coach Robbie Ftorek decided to take matters into his own hands when Devil Jay Pandolfo was slammed into the boards from behind at high speed while trying to prevent an icing penalty.
Evidently, the refs saw no problem at all. Play continued, with the opposing Red Wings immediately skating down the ice and scoring.
The unfortunate sequence so enraged Ftorek he heaved one of the team’s benches onto the ice. That act of furniture aggression resulted in Ftorek’s ejection, a one-game suspension, and a $10,000 fine. Pandolfo received 84 stitches.
When the Los Angeles Kings cut Jeff Cowan in late 2006, he was snatched up by the Vancouver Canucks. Cowan, not known for his offensive prowess, enjoyed a reputation as one of the league’s more fearsome enforcers.
But Cowan experienced some immediate and unusual success with his new team, scoring six goals over his first four games. After the fifth goal, the excitement apparently became too much for one female fan who demonstrated her approval by flinging her brassiere onto the rink.
This happy story ends with Cowan newly dubbed “Cowan the Bra-barian,” the team signing the bra, and then auctioning it off. They donated the proceeds to breast cancer research, as well they should.
The Ottawa Senators Hamburgler
Things were looking good for the 2014-15 Senators with the unexpectedly spectacular goaltending of Andrew “The Hamburgler” Hammond. His habit of “robbing” opponents of goals was becoming legendary.
An undrafted third-stringer, Hammond was thrust into the limelight thanks to starter Craig Anderson’s and back-up Robin Lehner’s injuries. A recipe for failure, right?
Wrong. Hammond went 20-1-2 for the season. All the startling success earned Hammond his moniker. Ecstatic Sens fans soon began raining meat onto the ice in the form of, what else? Hamburgers. Hammond never took a bite—the meat was “kind of cold,” he said.
Passionate fans express themselves in myriad ways, but hockey rituals, including throwing objects onto the ice, can be as dangerous and disruptive as they are entertaining. They often result in fan ejections and season-long or lifetime arena bans. So, before you decide to send some seafood over the glass, think it through. Maybe save that salmon for a celebratory dinner.