Detroit delicacy: octopus on ice 1995 STANLEY CUP FINALS

June 19, 1995|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

DETROIT -- It rained octopuses in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals between the Detroit Red Wings and the New Jersey Devils, and there is every indication it will rain octopuses even larger in Game 2.

Tomorrow at noon, Kevin Dean, who co-owns Superior Fish with his brothers Michael and David, will auction for charity Stanley, a 52-pound octopus, and his younger brother, Oscar, 36 pounds.

"I heard," said Al Sobotka, building manager at Joe Louis Arena and also the man who picks up the octopuses from the ice. "I'm lifting weights in preparation. It's either that or a forklift."

Pete Cusimano, who with his late brother, Jerry, started the Detroit octopus-throwing tradition in 1952, said he thinks it will take at least four people to hurl a 52-pounder onto the arena ice.

"I'd like to see how they handle that," he said.

And he might, if the Red Wings complete a plan to have Cusimano drop the puck for Game 2 tomorrow.

Hurling an octopus onto the ice after Detroit Red Wings goals started as a simple gesture of support when Pete, then 25, and Jerry, 22, were stocking a display in their family's fish store.

Both were avid Red Wings fans.

"Jerry looked over at me and said, 'Pete, why don't we throw this octopus on the ice as a good-luck charm tonight? They're talking about winning the Cup in eight games, and this thing has eight tentacles,' " said Pete Cusimano, 68, a restaurant purchasing agent in Warren, Mich. "I never thought 43 years later it would catch on like this."

In those days, there were only six NHL teams, and it took just eight postseason victories to win the Stanley Cup. Detroit had beaten the Toronto Maple Leafs four straight and was up 2-0 against the Montreal Canadiens. So the Cusimanos carried one well-cooked octopus to the Red Wings playoff game that night, and when Detroit scored its first goal, Jerry handed the octopus to Pete and told him to heave-ho.

"When our octopus hit the ice that first night, a linesman skated over, reached to pick it up and then fell back from it," Cusimano said, laughing. "Then one of the Red Wings came out, poked it with his stick and saw it jiggle. A lot of people thought it was alive, I guess."

The Red Wings won that game and the next to become the first team to win the Cup in eight straight. The next year, when the Wings were again in the playoffs, a local newspaper wondered if "the octopus would make its annual appearance."

The Cusimanos made sure it did, and now fans throw dozens.

At Superior Fish, Dean has his octopus-purchasing customers read and sign a pledge promising to follow "Octoquette," the proper etiquette for throwing an octopus, which includes boiling it to cut down on slime, hurling only after a Red Wings goal and tossing away from anyone on the ice.

Detroit forward Sergei Fedorov, who never saw an octopus toss while growing up in Russia, said: "It is great. Octopus is octopus. . . . It slows game down some, but it is part of game."

Sobotka has worked for the Wings since 1971 and said that the tradition is fun, but that it is "a little out of hand" now, with fans throwing so many and at wrong times.

When it's one, Sobotka simply can walk out on the ice, pick it up by its head and twirl it over his own head. He has become a celebrity, twirling octopuses.

But there were nearly 30 octopuses on the ice the night the Wings clinched a berth in the finals. And dozens of seafood stores have been selling the cephalopods in extraordinary numbers over the weekend. Sobotka has added help to get them off the ice. Eventually, the octopuses are dumped into the Detroit River, which is just behind the arena. There, according to the Detroit Free Press, they become fish food.

The Red Wings are used to this tradition. Yesterday, the Devils also were taking it in stride.

New Jersey defenseman Ken Daneyko, who is also a restaurant owner, said octopus is a delicacy.

"It's a waste of a lot of good octopus and it's a little crazy with them all flying out there, but I think it's good," he said. "The fans love it. We joked yesterday that Bobby Holik, who probably has the most insatiable appetite on our team, may just pick one up and eat it and silence the crowd."

NOTE: Detroit center Keith Primeau, who was forced to leave Game 1 with about five minutes left in the second period because of a back injury, said yesterday that he is receiving treatment and that his status for Game 2 is unclear. Primeau said he twisted the wrong way on a faceoff.

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