Quirky traditions and outlandish superstitions are important components of the stew that makes up professional hockey.
In 1952, two fish retailer brothers named Pete and Jerry Cusimano, tossed an octopus onto the ice during a Detroit Red Wings home game at the old Olympia Stadium. The logic of the brothers Cusimano was unique to say the least: the eight tentacles of the octopus represented the eight wins needed to win the NHL Championship in 1952.
The Red Wings would go on to sweep both Toronto and Montreal, winning eight straight games and the Stanley Cup. The octopus has since become a playoff tradition in Detroit, and the image of the Zamboni driver Al Sobotka stepping onto the ice and waving the cephalopod above his head can pump up the crowd at the Joe Louis Arena almost as much as a big hit or hard forecheck.
In October 1995, as the Florida Panthers were preparing for their home opener against the Calgary Flames, a rat scurried across the dressing room floor. Scott Mellanby took it upon himself to play exterminator, and ended that rat’s life then and there with a one-timer. Mellanby followed up the kill by stepping onto the ice that night and scoring two goals in a 4-3 win for Florida, their first of the season, prompting goalie John Vanbiesbrouck to quip to reporters that his teammate had scored the NHL’s first “rat-trick”.
The story took hold and, little by little, plastic rats began to shower the ice at the Miami Arena. Not only did Mellanby have the most productive season of his career, but the rag-tag group of journeymen and rookies that comprised the Florida roster somehow managed to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. They knocked off the Boston Bruins, the Philadelphia Flyers – then led by the infamous Legion of Doom – and the Pittsburgh Penguins, captained by Mario Lemieux, fresh off his third MVP season. The rats were riding shotgun for the Cinderella story, as fans would literally litter the ice with thousands of them following every Panthers goal.
Florida would eventually lose the Cup to the Colorado Avalanche, but the rats remain a Panther tradition. If only they made the playoffs more than once every decade, we’d see these celebratory rodents a lot more often.
The Nashville Predators are another example of hockey clubs that have adopted the tradition of throwing seafood onto the ice. During 2002 and 2003 seasons, fans of the southern US team began to smuggle catfish into Bridgestone Arena (then the Gaylord Entertainment Center) and toss them on the ice to pump up the crowd or celebrate a goal. In fact, this ritual officially cemented itself into hockey lore during the 2012 playoffs, due to one ice-girl’s badass reaction to having to clean up the aftermath. No gloves, no fear, no problem. What a woman.
What I’m trying to say here, is that hockey fans have a long and storied tradition of throwing aquatic life onto the ice. It started in Detroit, true, but fans around the hockey world have adapted it as their own.
That brings me to Prague.
One of the oddest traditions in the Czech Republic is eating carp for Christmas dinner. Call it cultural bias, but fish head’s soup and a fried carp cutlet isn’t quite what comes to mind when I think “Christmas Feast”, but who am I to judge. Like it or not – and a strong number of Czechs do not – the carp is a Czech Christmas classic. Christmas and carp are so synonymous here that, in the next few days, the streets will fill with fish tanks, fish guts, and vendors selling live carp to nearly every family in the country. Most will request the fish be killed before taking it home, though the true traditionalists will take a live one back and stick it in the bathtub for a day or two before Christmas – something for the kids to play with. Seriously.
It is indeed a quirky tradition, especially to outsiders.
The Prague Lions – or HC LEV Praha – are currently in the middle of their debut season in the KHL. They’re sitting 7th in the Western Conference and if they maintain their game, and more importantly the NHL talents of Jakub Voracek and Zdeno Chara, there is a strong possibility that they could make the playoffs in their premier season.
The team is still young, and it follows that they’re still searching for their identity a little bit. Of course, they are the only Czech team in the KHL and they are the Westernmost KHL team, so they have that going for them. However, they still have to fight with the Czech Extraliga’s Sparta Prague and Slavia Prague, two teams with rich histories, for the attention and – more importantly – passion of Prague hockey fans.
Still, things are improving. The fan sections are becoming more organized at Lion’s games and the players are becoming more familiar to their followers. But home games can be quite quiet at times, devoid of much fan involvement, and this is especially true if Prague is trailing. Smaller rinks around the KHL get three times the volume from their fans, visiting teams often have more passionate followers and, as is the case with Slovan Bratislava, sometimes teams can literally take over the building and turn Prague into the visiting club in their own barn. There’s still something missing.
Prague – what better time to combine your love of hockey with your bizarre holiday tradition. There are two Christmas games next week: first on December 23rd against Nail Yakopov’s Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, and then on Christmas Eve against Eastern powerhouse Ak Bars Kazan. It would be a perfect time to send a message: when you’re in our house, you abide by our customs and traditions. Hey, they might even steal a couple of points … the carp could set off a winning streak. Unlikelier things have happened, just ask the Florida Panthers.
I would love to see some brave Czech soul step up, take a couple of drinks, stick a fish down his pants, and sneak that carp into the arena. Wait until the first Lev goal – maybe it’ll be Klepiš, maybe Christensen, or maybe even that Bartečko boy – and launch that Christmas fish onto the ice at Tipsport Arena. Who knows, you just may be making Czech hockey history and helping your team cement its legacy among the great fish tossers the game has given us.
This is a call to carps!