Ice Hockey 1.01: Unique customs (Part 1)

Deakin University



Every sport has a long list of its own unique customs and odd traditions. In cricket, for example, it may seem strange to an outsider to be playing a series of games over a small urn, or it may seem confusing that players from both teams in a Test Match wear the same colour uniform.



For ice hockey and the NHL, it’s no different. There is a long list of customs and quirks that make hockey unique in the world of sport and as such, this is the first column in a two-part series explaining the what and why around some of the more confusing aspects of the sport.



Legend of the octopus

Although this tradition is specific only to the fans of the Detroit Red Wings NHL teams, it is confusing, outright weird and absolutely worth explaining.


Al the Octopus of the Detroit Red Wings [Source: Wikicommons]


This is a sports tradition where the fans of the Detroit Red Wings will toss a dead octopus onto the ice at home playoff games, usually after a Red Wings goal. You may have caught a glimpse of it in the embedded video in my previous column, ‘Ice Hockey 1.01: The Basics’ HERE.



The tradition began back in the playoffs of 1952, when two brothers, who owned a fish market, threw an octopus onto the rink in celebration after the Detroit Red Wings swept the Montreal Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup championship. The eight tentacles of the animal represented the eight wins necessary to win the Stanley Cup.



Now, almost 70 years after the first occurrence, there is a routine and etiquette around preparation of the octopus, when to throw and where to throw. This list details that the octopus must be boiled to remove any slime, it also states that the only appropriate time to toss the sea creature is after the Red Wings score a goal, and finally it forbids the targeting of players, officials and other personnel.



You may be wondering what happens once the cephalopod is thrown onto the ice? Well, the head ice manager of the home arena, and one of the two Zamboni drivers for the Detroit Red Wings, is tasked with the job of collecting the slippery creatures that somersault their way onto the ice. It is also a tradition that the head ice manager, Al Sobotka, twirls an octopus he collects in the air as he exits the ice. This practice was banned in April 2008 by the NHL as they had noticed bits of the octopus were flying into the ice and the opposing goaltender. However, this ban did not last long and a month later the ban was relaxed. Al Sobotka was allowed to continue this tradition as long as he twirled the octopus when he got off the ice.





The official mascot of the Detroit Red Wings is now an octopus named Al (after the octopus collector Al Sobotka). At the beginning of every playoffs series that Detroit compete in, two copies of the mascot (as it now takes 16 wins to claim the trophy) are raised to the ceiling of the arena.



The magic of a hat trick

Clearly ice hockey is not the first sport to have a hat trick, but they do have their own traditions and interpretations of what a hat trick is.



Beginning with the most straight forward incarnations of a hat trick in ice hockey, scoring three goals in a single game is considered a hat trick and scoring three consecutive goals in a game is considered a natural hat trick. Once a player scores a hat trick, either a regular or ‘natural’ one, the response from the crowd (especially if the player is from the home team) is to throw their hats onto the ice. Hundreds of hats of all shapes and sizes come flying from the stands and can hold up play for several minutes as players celebrate, music pumps throughout the stadium and arena personnel rush to collect all of the hats so that play can resume.



What teams do with the hats tossed in the rink is up to them. Some donate them to charity, others place them on display, and some even keep them for two weeks if any fans want to collect their hats. Although, apparently very specific detail is needed to identify the hat and most fans do not bother to collect them.





The other version of a hat trick in ice hockey is called the Gordie Howe hat trick. The way to complete this variation of a hat trick is to score a goal, collect an assist for a goal, and be involved in a fight in the same game.



Of course, it wouldn’t be hockey if there wasn’t some sort of achievement that involved fighting another player.



This achievement is named after Hall of Fame player and current record holder for the most seasons played in a career (26), Gordon Howe (otherwise known as Mr. Hockey). Although interestingly enough, Gordie Howe himself only managed two of these hat tricks in his career. The current record for the most Gordie Howe hat tricks in a career is former hockey player and current Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet with 18.





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  1. Dr Rocket says

    Thanks James, a really good insight into the traditions and quirks of the NHL.

    Americans are increasingly flocking to the hockey: no woke footballers and the governing body not making protests about changes to electoral laws. And the players can can still bung on a stink!

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