Originally, back in the days of the Original Six National Hockey League (NHL) teams, a team needed eight wins in the post-season to win the Stanley Cup. The eight legs of the octopus, squid or calamari represent each of these eight needed victories to sip champagne from Lord Stanley's Chalice, the name of the top prize in North American hockey. In the beginning, the squid were thrown on the ice at the end of a Red Wings home game when they won in the playoffs. Some fans, for nefarious and self-absorbing reasons, throw squid at inopportune times, like bad penalty calls, bad goals against, or even for any home-team goal.
The smell of the decaying cephalopods, increasing as the game wears on, could also play a part in the early release of these spiders of the oceans onto the ice, long before the game had expired, as the spectators near the fun-loving fans would get nauseated from the increasingly strong odours. The original intent was to throw the octopi onto the ice at the final buzzer, similar to throwing a hat out onto the ice for when a player gets a hat-trick (scores three goals in one game).
The National Hockey League (NHL) originally comprised of only six teams, known as the Original Six; they were the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Chicago, Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. In the regular season, there were three teams per Conference, and the top two teams in each Conference, at the end of the regular season, were entered into the playoffs. With four teams now playing for the top prize, there were only two rounds in the playoffs; the Conference Finals was the first round, and the Stanley Cup Finals the last. Each series was a best-of-seven battle, with four wins needed to win each playoff series. Thus, eight victories were required to win the Stanley Cup, and some enterprising fans decided to honour their team by throwing octopus onto the ice surface at the end of a Detroit home-ice playoff victory, representing the eight needed victories with the eight legs. They couldn't have brought spiders? Oh, there is more to the octopi than meets the eye!
There was a family business near the Joe, and they kept a brisk business on game days. Originally, it was just octopi that were thrown onto the ice after playoff victories. However, with brisk sales of their increasingly costly, and profitable wares, once the brothers were sold-out of octopus, the fans started buying squid and calamari, both eight legged cousins of the octopus.
The octopus throwing tradition in Detroit was first inked in history on April 15, 1952 by Pete and Jerry Cusimano. The two brothers, who were store owners in Detroit's eastern market, brought the octopus to throw onto the ice for good luck. Soon, the general public was lining up at the brother's store, and a tradition was born.
In the first year that the Cusimano brothers started throwing the cephalopods, the Red Wings swept both the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens en route to winning the Stanley Cup championship in two sweeps. That being the minimum number of games possible to win the Stanley Cup, which was then 8 games. Following this unlikely coincidence, The Red Wings went on to win two of the next three Stanley Cups, and the tradition was inked in stone.
Since 1952, because the tossing of octopus is generally viewed as a successful symbol of good luck, the practice has continued each year. In one 1995 playoff game, Detroit fans threw 36 octopi, including a 30 pound whopper, onto the ice. Event staff, having fun with the fans, were well willing to hold them up and wave them to fanaticize the crowd.
The Red Wings' unofficial mascot is now a purple octopus named Al. During playoff runs, two of these mascots are now hung from the rafters of the Joe Louis Arena, symbolizing the 16 victories that are now required to win the Stanley Cup. At present, fans are being warned of delay of game or unsportsmanlike penalties being called against the home team if they throw octopi, squid, calamari or any other fishy cousins onto the ice before the end of the game. It was at the end of the game that was the original intention of the squid throwing in the first place, after all.
When fans start throwing octopus onto the ice after every goal, the clean-up was often timely, and fewer octopi have been thrown onto the ice surface in the past few years. This may also have something to do with the rising cost of seafood. For over-fishing of octopi, and financial cost reasons, squid and calamari have mostly been thrown for the past couple of decades, but the octopi still show up when Detroit makes it to the Stanley Cup finals, and especially when they win the big show on home ice.