With the Stanley Cup playoffs in full swing, let’s examine some of the various objects fans have hurled onto the ice.
On April 15, 1952, Red Wings fans and brothers Pete and Jerry Cusimano threw an octopus on the ice at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium. The eight tentacles on the octopus were symbolic of the eight wins needed to win the Stanley Cup at the time, when the league consisted of six teams and the playoff format was two best-of-seven series. The Red Wings swept the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens to win the Cup and a Detroit hockey tradition was born.
Starting in the first half of the 20th century, hat companies would give away fedoras to players who scored three goals in a game. According to a spokesman for the Hockey Hall of Fame, NHL fans started throwing hats on the ice to celebrate hat tricks in the 1970s.
The most recent addition to this list was inspired by a hilarious internet campaign earlier this month. A Toronto Maple Leafs blogger launched the movement when he suggested, via Twitter, that Phoenix Coyotes blogger Travis Hair throw a rattlesnake onto the ice during Game 1 of the Coyotes’ first-round playoff series against Detroit. Before long, #ThrowTheSnake was the top trending topic in Canada and Hair was reaching out to the team’s marketing department about organizing a non-disruptive way to capitalize on the excitement. Hair suggested that fans be permitted to throw rubber snakes after warm-ups and before the Zamboni cleared the ice, but team officials wanted none of it. Anyone who threw a snake, they said, would be ejected. No matter, after the Coyotes’ Keith Yandle scored to tie the game during the first period of Game 1, a rubber snake hit the ice.
On October 8, 1995, Florida Panthers winger Scott Mellanby was waiting in the dressing room at Miami Arena, ready to take the ice for the third-year franchise’s home opener, when he spotted a rat moving across the floor. Perhaps acting on instinct, Mellanby unleashed a slap shot that killed the intruder, which was memorialized with the inscription R.I.P. RAT 1 on the wall above where it died. That night, Mellanby scored two goals in the Panthers’ 4-3 win and Florida goalie John Vanbiesbrouck dubbed the feat a rat trick during the postgame press conference. A fan threw a plastic rat on the ice after a goal during one of the Panthers’ next home games, and the custom eventually caught on. As the Panthers’ wins continued to pile up, so too did the fake rodents.
During the Panthers’ 1996 playoff run, a local supermarket baked rat-shaped cakes and Dan Marino’s bar introduced a new drink, the Rat Shooter. Plastic rat reinforcements had to be shipped in to South Florida after the Panthers advanced to the Stanley Cup finals against the Colorado Avalanche. Avs fans, who tossed rat traps on the ice during games in Denver, had the last laugh, as Colorado swept the series. The NHL introduced a new rule during the offseason that called for referees to issue the home team a bench minor penalty if fans ignored the public address announcer’s warning and continued to throw objects onto the ice after a goal.
The first two slabs of Alberta beef landed on the ice at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena prior to the start of Game 2 of the 2006 first round Stanley Cup playoff series between the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers and the top-seeded Red Wings. “They threw the beef in Detroit, and we won,” Oilers winger Georges Laraque told reporters after Edmonton won Game 2 to even the series. “I think it’s an awesome idea. Edmonton has better fans than Detroit. What better way to rub it in their faces than by throwing a big Alberta steak onto the ice. It gets people revved up. We can associate it with winning and start a whole new tradition!”
Tossing Alberta beef—the perfect antidote to Detroit’s octopus—onto the ice was Edmonton DJ Gary McLachlan’s idea, and it didn’t take long for the bizarre ritual to become associated with winning. The Oilers dispatched the Red Wings in six games and, with the beef raining down, advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. While attending Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., McLachlan was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for throwing a slab of beef onto the ice during the national anthem. “I hope they understand it was all in good fun,” McLachlan said. “We weren’t out to hurt anybody. I am hanging up the meat hook.” The Oilers lost the series in seven games.
San Jose Sharks fans and cousins Ken Conroy and Mike Gaboury hatched a plan to mimic Detroit’s octopus-throwing tradition by throwing a shark onto the ice when San Jose played the Red Wings in the first round of the 1994 playoffs. While the idea didn’t materialize into action during that series, the duo vowed to make it happen the next time San Jose and Detroit met in the playoffs.
Flash forward to 2006. Conroy purchased Game 4 tickets in the lower bowl online and a pair of 4-foot leopard sharks from a San Francisco fishing pier. Conroy and his son used an elaborate process documented here to secure one of the sharks to Gaboury’s back and the trio headed to the game. Gaboury, who wore a trench coat to help conceal the bulge the shark created, waited until the lights dimmed during pregame introductions to unwrap the shark and slide it under his seat. After the Sharks scored late in the first period, he handed the shark to Conroy, who moved to the aisle and prepared for the toss of his life. “I took about three steps and I just heaved it (with two hands) and it slides out to the blue line near the middle of the ice,” said Conroy, who was escorted out of the arena by security. “…This thing was created to mock the Red Wings fans and it just grew into a challenge and adventure that could not be denied. It couldn’t be passed up. We knew we just had to do it. It was just for fun.”
On Jan. 6, 1973, Cornell upset top-ranked Harvard in a game that is remembered most, according to the Cornell Daily Sun, for the dead chicken that a Harvard fan tossed at Cornell goalie Dave Elenbaas. Big Red fans responded to the gesture, which mocked Cornell’s agriculture college, by pelting Harvard players with fish before the start of the second period and tying a live chicken to Harvard’s net during the schools’ next meeting. Nearly 40 years later, the intense rivalry and Cornell’s fish-throwing tradition persists.
Not surprisingly, throwing objects on the ice predates even Detroit’s famed octopus tradition. In 1944, Earl “The Iceman” Davis, who supervised a cleanup crew of 12 at Chicago Stadium, was featured in a national wire story on fan behavior at hockey games. “Hockey fans are the craziest people, of that I’m sure,” Davis said. “They do not seem to know it’s dangerous to throw things—that a player could break his leg on the junk they toss—and that we are breaking our backs picking it up. One night we scooped up 300 or 400 pennies, several dimes and nickels and a couple of quarters.”
The biggest source of trash, however, was “paper airplanes made with painstaking care from programs by guys in the far, smoke-bound reaches of the upper gallery.” These fans were known for picking a spot on the ice and betting who could sail their paper planes closest to the mark. In the same article, Blackhawks president Bill Tobin recalled the time that a fan in Montreal threw an alarm clock on the ice. “Thought it was time we woke up, I guess,” he said.
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