Queen City Nerve

Charlotte's Cultural Pulse

Flight of the Octopus
All dead bodies should be kept on ice

By Justin Zalewski

June 7, 2019

Justin Zelewski (Photo by Tim Baker)

Charlotte may not be the biggest hockey town in the world. It’s the South, after all.

I, on the other hand, hail from Hockeytown, USA, aka Detroit, Michigan. I grew up playing hockey and idolizing the likes of Steve Yzerman and Bob Probert, to name a couple. Hockey is a sport rife with tradition, from playoff beards to the captain having first dibs hoisting the Stanley Cup. The Detroit Red Wings have their own time-honored tradition: tossing an octopus on the ice. That may seem odd to some, but it makes perfect sense to those that understand.

Legend has it that the eight tentacles of the octopus represent the eight playoff victories once needed to win the Stanley Cup, the NHL’s championship trophy. This tradition started in 1952 when fish market owner Pete Cusimano threw an octopus on the ice to celebrate a goal against the Montreal Canadiens. Pete claimed that his octopus toss influenced the outcome of the game and he showed up at every playoff game thereafter, tossing an octopus after every first Red Wings goal.

So why the hell would I be writing about hockey and octopus tossing? Well, this is a column about drinking and giving tips along the way, and since its playoff time in the NHL, and down in the AHL your very own Charlotte Checkers are in the Calder Cup Finals, I have a story to tell. It involves a man, a dream and an octopus.

On April 8, 2011, three friends and I decided to go see our beloved Red Wings take on the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. While planning this trip, three of us decided it would be a good idea to each bring an octopus and toss it on the ice once the Wings inevitably scored.

Planning is key when tackling such a stupid task. First you have to find an octopus. A local Asian fish market provided the sea creature needed. Then you have to get it in the arena. This, too, took proper planning.

Fortunately, an octopus’ body is very malleable, which is key in smuggling one past security. One big problem, however, is the smell. First, we wrapped the creature in several layers of saran wrap, then double-bagged it to minimize the smell. Next, we shaped the package to resemble the male reproductive organ. You might see where this is going.

Off to Raleigh we went. We had a cooler packed with a few cases of beer, a bottle of Kraken Rum and own mini-Kraken carcasses. We arrived to the RBC Center under perfect weather and began tailgating. We were shotgunning beers and ripping shots. About an hour into the haze of booze we began discussing how to smuggle in our sea creatures.

As you may have guessed, the three men placed the octopi in our crotches so if security were to pat us down we could give a wink and a nod then move on.

We headed into the arena fully loaded. My nerves shook as I walked into the arena. It isn’t every day you get hammered and smuggle a smelly cephalopod into a hockey game. Fortunately, we all made it in and found our seats.

Now we just needed the Wings to score a goal. At the drop of the puck to start the first period, I took my stinky friend out of my pants and set him under my seat. A scoreless first period meant more beer and anxious waiting. Then, without warning, a goal scored or even a discussion, my friend Anthony decided it was time to let his eight-legged friend fly, leaving the rest of us in shock.

We all played dumb so as not to alert security or those around us. Somehow, it worked. No one had a clue. However, the block was now hot; security and enemy fans all had eyes on our section.

By the third period, it was a 3-0 game, the Hurricanes with the only goals. There was no way these carcasses were leaving that arena with us. We moved to another section and decided we would toss them when we saw our best chance. With only 20 seconds left in the game, we let the octopi fly!

Now the escape was under way. Our cover was obviously blown, with Hurricanes fans booing loudly and throwing objects at us. I lost my friends, and it was not long before my first obstacle presented itself: a lone security guard attempting to stop my forward progress.

A simple juke move put that joker on his ass and I high-stepped past him. An exit shined at me like the gold pot at the end of a rainbow. Could it be this simple? Nope! Upon reaching the exit I was greeted by three more security guards. A juke move wasn’t going to do the trick this time.

The first security guard went for a tackle and I countered with a stiff arm. The second grabbed my jersey, slowing me until the third could get in front of me. I mowed him over like freshly cut grass which shook the other guard loose.

I started my running to the vehicle, thinking I was home free. But alas, you can’t outrun a radio. Raleigh’s finest were now involved, with red and blue lights pursing me through the parking lot. I could hear the Bad Boys theme in my head.

Like any good general, I sought the high ground so I could examine the battlefield. On the far end of the lot I saw a hill that led to the freeway. My escape plan came into focus. When I reached the top, the only thing between freedom and the coppers was a 15-foot barb-wire fence. Not happening.

So, I dug in like a Mississippi tick in a thicket of bushes and awaited the goon squad. There was still some fight left in me. With flashlights all around, the fuzz was closing in on me.

When one officer got within 3 feet, I sprung up like a jackrabbit and ran back down the hill. The boys in blue had no idea what happened. I was running like Forrest Gump back to the car, free at last! Then my whole game ended abruptly.

One athletic cop stalked me like a puma and lunged at me, making a beautiful form tackle. Soon after that, the bracelets were placed on my wrists and I was given a ride to the local jail.

I learned many life lessons that evening, and if I can share one of the most valuable ones, it would be this: You can’t outrun a radio, no matter how much sauce you ingest.
Remember to always tip your bartender.

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