Flying Off the Handle: A Brief History of Wacky Objects Hockey Fans Have Thrown on the Ice
Aside from the typical food, debris, and trash that all make their way to the ice, hockey fans have been hurling peculiar objects over the glass for decades. Whether it's in celebration, protest, or for good luck, fans have utilized these candid demonstrations to let teams and players know their true feelings.
The classic toss accompanies the hat trick.
There are several origin stories about the hat trick itself, but the history surrounding how fans came to toss their hats to the ice when a player tallied three goals is no mystery.
In the 1950's, Guelph, Ontario was home to the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters, who were sponsored by Biltmore Hats. When a player scored three goals, Mr. Biltmore threw his top hat to the ice for the player who had accomplished the feat. Fans quickly adopted this ritual, and it has continued for decades.
Throwing hats onto the ice is something that is a long-standing tradition in the National Hockey League and hockey in general, but since then, fans have let their imaginations run amok. Here's a look at the various odds and ends that have found their way onto hockey’s playing surfaces over the years and how they got there.
Octopuses -- Detriot, Michigan
The Detroit Red Wings' unique tradition of throwing an octopus onto the ice during home playoff games has been alive since the team's appearance in the 1952 Stanley Cup playoffs. In that era, it only took eight wins to secure the Cup. Two brothers, Pete and Jerry Cusimano, owned a fish market and decided to throw an octopus on the ice because of its eight tentacles, hoping that it would bring good luck.
The Wings went a perfect 8-0 that year, sweeping both the semifinals and finals in straight games. Detroit has kept the octopus as a good luck charm ever since.
According to this clip from Versus (video), a 30-pound octopus was only one of 36 octopuses thrown during the 1995 playoff run.
Rubber Snakes -- Phoenix, Arizona
Last April, the Phoenix Coyotes were pitted against the Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs when blogger Travis Hair inspired the Yotes fanbase to retaliate against the octopus.
"There's going to be some moron there with an octopus who's going to throw it on the ice. Why not have one little octopus look pathetic next to a thousand rubber snakes? Why not?" said Hair. "It's stupid, but you're on the news. It's already going to be a big hockey event, so why not have it be a really cool, funny event that'll be talked about for years."
The Twitter phenomenon spread with the hashtag #throwthesnake, and even Hockey Night in Canada picked up the story after a rubber snake made its way to the ice (video).
Rubber Rats -- Miami, Florida
Before the Coyotes were even a thought, the Florida Panthers became involved in one of the strangest object-tossing stories. In October 1995, a live rat was spotted in the Panthers' locker room, and the 'Year of the Rat' began.
"Guys were jumping out of the way and screaming. It made a beeline right towards me," said Panther Scott Mellanby. "I one-timed it, and it was dead."
That night, Florida beat the Calgary Flames 4-3, with Mellanby nabbing two goals for himself. Goalie John Vanbiesbrouck dubbed this feat a 'rat trick.'
Two games later, the rubber rats began to fall.
According to Rattrick.com, by the time the playoffs began, the per-game rat count exceeded 2,000. The team created the Rat Patrol to collect the rats after they had hit the ice and nearby supermarkets sold cakes supporting the bizarre charm.
As the rats rained down, goaltenders used to hide underneath their nets to escape the chaotic barrage.
One goalie who refused? Patrick Roy.
The Colorado Avalanche netminder would not duck underneath his net to flee the rats during games three and four of the Stanley Cup finals. After he let in the first goal during game three, Roy stood there as fans delighted in pitching the rats over the glass. Florida scored a second goal and during the intermission, Roy told his team that there would be no more rats -- and there weren't. He shut out the Panthers for the rest of the series, not allowing another goal past him for seven periods.
(Throughout the first two games in Denver, Avs fans teased Florida by throwing rat traps onto the ice following Colorado goals.)
During the offseason, the NHL was forced to create a new rule that allowed referees to call a bench minor penalty if fans disregarded the public address announcer's warnings and threw objects onto the ice after a goal. Eventually, the NHL amended this rule to exclude hats.
Sharks -- San Jose, California
In 2007, Ken Conroy finally got to act on a plan that he had hatched in 1994 -- throwing a shark onto the ice when the San Jose Sharks faced off against the Detroit Red Wings. In 2010, he did it again (video), this time stuffing and sewing an octopus into the shark's mouth before heaving it over the glass. His entire journey -- including how he snuck the sharks inside the arena and what has happened since -- is detailed on Yahoo!'s Puck Daddy.
Beef -- Edmonton, Alberta
In yet another response to Detroit's octopus, Edmonton Oilers fans decided to throw slabs of beef (video) onto the ice. The Oilers were matched up against the Red Wings in the first round of the 2006 playoffs and, at the request of Edmonton DJ Gary McLachlan, fans let the Alberta beef fly. Oilers fans saw steaks on the ice for all 24 games they played that post season.
"They threw the beef in Detroit and we won. I think it's an awesome idea," former Oiler Georges Laraque said. "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."
Waffles -- Toronto, Ontario
Toronto Maple Leafs fans flung waffles not for luck, but for a more heated reason. This past December, fans pelted the breakfast favorite at their own players because they were discontent with their abysmal last-place record.
The Toronto Sun identified the original waffle-thrower as Jack M., and interviewed him after the game.
"They need to wake up and eat some breakfast," he said. "I'm just trying to help them out with a balanced diet."
"I don't appreciate it, really, a guy throwing waffles at me as I am skating by," Colby Armstrong said after the incident. "We’re trying to make light of it in here. Throw a filet, throw a T-bone. Spend some money."
Unfortunately for Armstrong, the Leafs’ gradual climb from the Eastern Conference cellar has earned no such rewards.
Teddy Bears -- Throughout North America
One of the most heartwarming, as well as astounding, fan displays is hockey's famed teddy bear toss.
A popular Christmastime tradition in many minor and junior hockey leagues, the custom permits fans to throw teddy bears onto the ice as a donation to deserving children. Although the exact origin is unconfirmed, the tradition is considered to have begun at Kitchener Rangers games. The Calgary Hitmen currently hold the record for collecting the most bears (video), as they gathered 26,919 stuffed companions off the ice on Dec. 2, 2007.
Clothing -- Throughout North America
After Dany Heatley demanded a trade and ultimately left for San Jose, many Ottawa Senators fans weren't exactly thrilled with his less-than-civil departure. When the Sharks and their newly-acquired winger returned to Ottawa, these disgruntled fans hurled their Heatley gear (video) over the glass.
Fans have also thrown a variety of clothing items to the ice in celebrating a player's hat trick. Some of these non-headgear items include shoes and even undergarments. The Philadelphia Flyers have a display case in the Wells Fargo Center, immortalizing the hats that were thrown to the ice for several hat tricks. Also in that display place? A bra.
Fish -- Throughout North America
Following in the underwater ritual footsteps of Detroit and reviving a tradition that may have tried to take hold in the 1990's, two Vancouver Canucks fans threw a large salmon (video) onto the ice last week.
A deeper-routed fish-throwing tradition lies at the University of New Hampshire, where fans have been hurling them after their first foal since the early 1970's. Instead of mimicking Detroit, however, the act is supposed to symbolize the opposing team fishing the puck out of the net.
The university's archives hold one of the school's best fish stories.
"In an article in the Winter 2001 UNH Magazine, UNH head coach Dick Umile '72 told the tale of the time the UNH mascot, Wild E. Cat, attempted to throw the fish in Snively Arena. When Wild E. Cat threw the fish, it hit a Yale assistant coach. (The costume -- as those who have worn it will attest -- obscures all but a small line of sight.) "The assistant coach was an Italian guy, and they called him the 'Godfather'," says Umile. "They now call him the 'Codfather'. The guy came up to me after the game, and I apologized. What could I say? It slipped.""
In yet another fishy display, Cornell University has been heaving an assortment of fish for almost forty years. It all began on January 6, 1973, when a Harvard University fan threw a dead chicken at Cornell goalie Dave Elenbaas as a crack at Cornell's agriculture college. In retaliation, Cornell threw fish and tied a live chicken to Harvard's net.
The administration has publicly discouraged this tradition, but the fish still fly every time Cornell and Harvard hit the ice at Lynah Rink in Ithaca, NY.
Facility supervisor Phil Graham, who has maintained his position for 30 years, has seen it all.
"Graham said he's pretty much seen every variety of fish and fish part land on his ice. In addition to various forms of haddock, salmon, cod, trout and bass, students have also thrown live lobsters, squid, octopus and gold fish swimming in plastic bags. The creativity has expanded to include McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, Gorton's fish sticks, cans of tuna and Swedish Fish."
In this Cornell Daily Sun article from 2006, head coach Mike Schafer remembers when he played.
"The worst that can happen [is] fans throw stuff on the ice and it penalizes us throughout the course of the game," he said. "I know that when I played we had to kill three penalties over the course of the game because of fans throwing things on the ice."
Chicken -- Los Angeles, California
Harvard and Cornell weren't the only teams to use chickens on the ice.
In 2008, Inside the Kings interviewed Los Angeles Kings voice Bob Miller, who described the most bizarre thing that happened while he was on the air.
"On March 5, 1988, some fan threw a live chicken on the ice in the first period while the game was in progress at the Forum. The chicken had what looked like a blue napkin on his back and was so scared it sat motionless and soiled the ice. Play continued for about 30 seconds as Kings players skated and stickhandled around the chicken until the referee stopped play and the chicken was removed."
Eggs -- New York City, New York
Was it the chicken and then the egg? Or the egg and then the chicken? Either way, it's unlikely that's what Lorne Worsley was thinking in 1967 when he was hit in the head and knocked out by an egg when a 25-year-old fan pitched it at his head. Worsley, netminding for the Montreal Canadiens, was hit in Madison Square Garden when he gave up the game's first goal in the opening minutes.
It turned out that the culprit was hoarding an entire bag of eggs when he was caught by MSG’s police, but Worsley refused to press charges.
The Montreal Gazette caught up with the goaltender the next day.
"It hit me flush on the temple just after the goal was scored. I didn't know it was an egg until I felt the gook."
Toe Rubbers -- Montreal, Quebec
The Hockey Hall of Fame details how Montreal Canadiens fans used to throw toe rubbers during a goal celebration.
"At the Montreal Forum in an era when it was customary to protect good shoe leather in the winter, fans celebrated a big goal by the Rocket, Boom Boom or Big Jean by throwing toe rubbers on the ice. Former Chicago Black Hawk winger Dennis Hull likes to tell about the time his father took him aside before a big game at the Forum. Anticipating a fatherly pep talk, Dennis was surprised to hear his father say, "Son, when the Habs score tonight and the rubbers hit the ice, grab me a good pair, will you? Size ten.""
Former referee Bill Friday added a bit more insight about the toe rubber tossing in the 1950's and 60's.
"[Montreal fans] would throw [the toe rubbers] if they didn't like your calls. It might not necessarily be the wrong call, it would be the call against Montreal that they didn't like. Not necessarily the wrong call. Anything against their Canadiens and they would get upset [and the toe rubbers would come flying.] We would clean them up and start the game and they would go home and get their feet wet in the snow. We used to throw them in the garbage. If you wanted to make money, you sold toe rubbers in Montreal."
Sex Toys -- Sweden
In Sweden, fans took object-throwing and mockery to an entirely new level.
After Leksand defenseman Jan Huokko's cell phone was stolen and a sexually-explicit video of him and his girlfriend was released, fans seized the opportunity. They brought banners, inflatable genitalia, and actually threw dildos onto the ice before the puck even dropped.
Have you seen fans throw an object that didn’t make the list? Who and what will be next?
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