Florida Panthers

A Panthers fan was hit with an octopus during the national anthem. It’s a tradition.

Detroit Red Wings goalie Mike Vernon, during a 1996 Red Wings road game against then-hated rival Colorado, scoops up an octopus thrown onto the ice in the third period.
Detroit Red Wings goalie Mike Vernon, during a 1996 Red Wings road game against then-hated rival Colorado, scoops up an octopus thrown onto the ice in the third period. AP

It was a tough Saturday night at the BB&T Center in Sunrise for Panthers fan Charles Sternfield — the Detroit Red Wings beat the Panthers 3-2 and an octopus reportedly hit Sternfield in the head.

WSVN Channel 7 reports Sternfield got smacked in the head with the 10-pound sea creature during the national anthem. He told the station, “It was quite heavy. It hurt me, and I was quite shaken up by it. I certainly wasn’t expecting to get hit in the head by a large animal of some type.”

As puckheads know, this kind of thing can happen when Detroit comes to town.

The 65-year-old tradition — it’s reached retirement age, but it’ll never be retired — started in 1952, during the NHL’s six-team days. Four teams made the playoffs, meaning a team had to win two best four-of-seven series to win the Stanley Cup. The dominant Red Wings team not only won both series, did so in a pair of four-game sweeps.

The night of the Cup-clinching eighth playoff win, a pair of Detroit storeowners snuck a octopus into the game and threw it onto the ice, the eight legs symbolizing Detroit’s eight playoff wins.

The tradition faded during the “Detroit Dead Things” era of the 1970s and 1980s. With Detroit’s revival as a perennial powerhouse in the 1990s, the octopus tossing returned during the playoffs. Then, it expanded outside the playoffs as the Red Wings’ resurrection led to Detroit fans being the NHL’s version of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.

Similar to the way Pittsburgh natives who left during the city’s economic transition packed stadiums for Steelers road games, Detroit-area natives who left during Motown’s economic turbulence of the last half century made the Red Wings the NHL’s best road draw during the 1990s and 2000s. And, on more than one occasion, one of them indulged in the octopus tradition.

Obviously and unfortunately, Saturday’s thrower didn’t obey proper octopus-throwing form to get proper ice-reaching distance.

WSVN reports the Sunrise police are looking into the incident.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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