Memories of Stanley

Lance Hornby

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

Normally, we'd be watching the Stanley Cup playoffs right now. This series looks back at some post-season highlights: IN DETROIT, it's not just the bars, restaurants and Red Wings souvenir stores feeling the pinch of the National Hockey League lockout.

This is the week that Motown and vicinity fish markets normally would be doing a booming business in octopi.

But cephalopods are safe this post-season, as the bizarre, but long-standing Wings playoff tradition of tossing them on the ice has been put on hold.

It was April 15, 1952 and the Wings were back on home ice at the Olympia, owning a 3-0 series lead on the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final.

The year before, the Wings bid for a second consecutive Cup was upset by an opening-round loss to the Habs that included losses in quadruple and triple overtime.

Sensing their team needed some luck to seal the deal, east-side fishmongers and season-ticket-holder brothers Pete and Jerry Cusimano hatched the octopus idea. It was based on their observation that eight tentacles match the number of victories it took to win a Cup in the six-team NHL.

Detroit was poised to become the first team to win the title in the minimum eight games.

During Game 4, Pete smuggled the octopus into the building, hid it under his seat and let it fly to the ice during the second period. Terry Sawchuk was in goal in his first Cup final and recorded a 3-0 Cup clinching win that night, his fourth shutout of the playoffs, all on home ice.

It was the second of four Cups Detroit won during the early 1950s, and the powerful club appeared in the final a total of seven times from 1948 to 1956.

Manager Jack Adams called the 1952 Wings the best ever assembled, but the octopus year was also the last of their famed Production Line of Sid Abel, Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay, with Abel moving on to Chicago as the Blackhawks' new coach.

But after 1955, the Octopus' garden was closed as the Wings entered a 40-year championship dry spell. It was resurrected in 1995 when Detroit made it back in the final against the New Jersey Devils. So many octopi splattered on the ice that spring that Naomi A. Rose, a marine mammal scientist in Washington, D.C., fired off a letter of protest to the Washington Post:

"To those who love animals, the concept of tossing carcasses on to a hockey rink is unbelievably bizarre and offensive. That it is tolerated and made light of by sports officials and sportscasters is disturbing."

But by then, Detroit fish stores couldn't keep octopi in stock. T-shirts and other related octopi merchandise abounded and Wings players were even sticking them inside teammates' skates as a practical joke.


Videos

Photos