Eight arms to hold you


The puck is about to drop on what might well be the last game of the NHL playoffs this year. The Detroit Red Wings are up three games to one over Pittsburgh and are poised to win the Stanley Cup at home. TSN’s pre-game coverage just featured a hidden-camera report in which a guy in a Red Wings jersey went into a fish market in Pittsburgh and tried to buy an octopus but was refused.

This fishmonger had previously publicized that he wouldn’t be party to the half-century-old tradition in which Detroit fans hurl an octopus onto the ice for luck before a playoff game. The cephalopod’s eight legs represent the eight victories needed to win the Cup back in 1952, when the ritual started. (Of course, now it would take two octopi, since 16 wins are needed.) There was a minor controversy earlier this year because the league forbade the Red Wings’ zamboni driver from twirling the octopus around his head when he removes it from the ice. Now the linesman cleans it up, but as a compromise, the zamboni driver is still allowed to twirl it at the zamboni entrance. Apparently the objection was that the visiting team’s goalie kept getting covered in flying fish guts.

Not being a hockey fan, my girlfriend had never heard of this. “This is ridiculous,” she said. “Are you making this up to see how gullible I am?” Her doubt is understandable since I’m a notorious liar, but it’s completely true. I pointed her to Wikipedia’s page about the phenomenon for confirmation; however, the current entry contains a couple of parts that seem a little suspect:

The throwing of the octopus is an old playoff tradition for the Red Wings. Back in the 50s Gordie Howe used to eat a live Octopus before every game. In game 7 of the 1956 finals, Maurice Richard of the Montreal Canadiens snuck into Detroit’s locker room and stole Howe’s Octopus, planning to eat it himself after the game. Howe learned of Richard’s theft, and went and recovered his octopus from Montreal’s locker room while they were taking warmups. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup that night, and at the end of the game, Howe went over to Richard and strangled him to death with that very octopus. And that’s how the tradition began.

Even the Beatles were big fans of the tradition with their “Eight Arms to Hold You” (8 wins to hold up the Stanley Cup) working title for what eventually became Help! They went with Help! since the Red Wings stopped winning cups at that time thus become the Dead Wings and Paul “died” because he was depressed about it. Paul would later form Wings as a tribute to his favorite hockey team.

I’m pretty sure Maurice Richard died of cancer, and wasn’t murdered by Gordie Howe via octopus strangulation, but who knows? Hockey is a rough sport.

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