March 17, 2011. A day that lives in… well, my memory better than most. The Wings were coming off a big 3-2 win over the Caps, snapping a nine-game winning streak. Joey MacDonald pitched a shutout. Mike Babcock got his 300th win as a Red Wings coach. Oh, and I achieved a dream by throwing an octopus on the ice.
It was spring break of my second year of college and the girl I was seeing was a Washington Capitals fan. With a week off and the money for a trip, what else was I going to do? NOT drive from Virginia Beach to Detroit and watch our two teams play? Fat chance! So we packed out bags, bought tickets to the game against the Capitals, as well as the following night against the Bluejackets, and started out journey. We were going to be hockey groupies!
As we journeyed to Ohio to stop and see my good buddy Joe Hindy, I knew my mission wouldn’t be an easy one. Any University of Michigan football fan will tell you that the fans in Columbus can be less than hospitable, and hockey is no exception. I read of violence occurring with Wings fans, which at the time would sometimes outnumber Jackets fans, when an octopus was thrown on the ice. I didn’t want this to happen, but I also considered that this could very well be an isolated incident rather than standard operating procedure.
We arrived in Columbus on the 14th and after catching up with Joe, I started calling around to various butchers and markets to try and seek out an octopus. This presented my first hurdle: Who the hell sells octopi? Markets offered to special order it, but most everyone didn’t carry it. Or rather suspiciously claimed to not carry it. I knew that there were other options and we were heading to Michigan the next day, so I waited until we got to Detroit and headed north to Royal Oak. There we were able to seek out Superior Fish, the ‘Oh-FISH-al’ supplier of octopi for Red Wings related antics.
I walked in wearing an Yzerman jersey and proudly stated that I needed an octopus to throw on the ice from the lower bowl. The manager was a little surprised to find someone seeking an octopus before the playoffs, but he was happy to supply me with one nonetheless. He explained to me that for the playoffs they usually have packs all set together and ready to go for any variety of different seats in the arenas. He also had me sign the “Octoquette” form pictured to the left, declaring more or less that I wouldn’t be a total jerk about throwing an octopus into the middle of a sporting event. I doubt that it has any legal binding, but it was nice to see that they didn’t want a game to be too disturbed by this tradition. Well, tradition to some, moronic and gross to others.
We watched the Wings beat the Caps 3-2 thanks to a sweet backhand shelf goal from Henrick Zetterberg and drove to Columbus that night with an octopus in the trunk. Storage wasn’t much of an issue since it was pretty cold out. Once we got back to Joe’s house we followed the Octoquette as best we could by boiling the octopus we had purchased. The purpose behind this to my understanding is to keep slime off the octopus. This makes for less clean up when the octopus is being picked up off the ice. Such courtesy!
It was after this preparation that we encountered our next hurdle: How exactly do I get this in to the arena and discretely remove it for it’s ejection into the frozen pond of glory? We scrambled for a solution to this and eventually came to Ziploc bag + baggy jeans. Once we parked I slid the bag into my crotch (sealed bag!) and we walked into the arena. I tried to act as casual as possible. This proved to be incredibly difficult, as I had to keep the bag from sliding down either leg of my pants. Plus this was my second game at Nationwide, but the lady friend’s first, so we walked around to see the Blueline Store, the Cannon, and the other cool stuff around Nationwide (top notch arena by the way).
Finally, puck drop was upon us and the lights dimmed. I certainly didn’t want to sit in the squishiness and the stench until there was a reason to throw the octopus. Especially with how unpredictable a game could be, there might not even be a reason to throw it. Even Calgary and Florida win sometimes! I remembered reading somewhere that one of the best times to throw it was just as the national anthem was finishing, as it’s dark and no one is looking at anything remotely close to you. I started to slip it out of my pants and open up the bag. Just as the anthem was finishing “…And the home of the brave!” the cephalopod was made airborne. Everyone was looking to my left at the anthem singer, so I sent it right. It landed with a bit of a mark on the ice and one of the ice girls came to pick it up. They were nice enough to give here a shovel, I’ve seen people have to pick it up bare handed.
After the puck was dropped I crept up to the restroom to dispose of the bag and wash my hands. As I came back, the PA announcer was reminding the crowd that throwing objects onto the ice would subject one to ejection from the arena. Should have told me before! My face turned a little red and I started to get nervous. If they had seen it get thrown, I could be on my way out! I nervously watched the game, fearing at every stoppage that a security guard was about to tap me on the shoulder and take me to be detained and meet Gary Bettman like that one guy. It wasn’t until about ten minutes into the first period that I was able to settle down and actually enjoy the game. I got away with it! Another guy later in the game threw a couple octopi on the ice with about a minute left in the third and he was ejected rather quickly.
I talked to one of the fans close by and had a friendly discussion about the Blue Jackets and the game in general. He told me that if security came by he was going to rat me out, but since no one came by he wasn’t going to go out of his way to get me tossed. Kind of a jerk move, but then again, so is tossing an octopus in someone else’s arena. It was a fun experience, but I don’t think I’d ever do it again. Anticipating being tossed out of the game definitely took away from my enjoyment of the game, and with the recent legal crackdown it doesn’t seem like it’s worth it anymore. Still, I’m happy to scratch one off the bucket list.
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