Windsor man faces lifetime ban for tossing first octopus at Little Caesars Arena

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Detroit Red Wings’ superfan Nick Horvath smuggled an octopus into Little Caesars Arena with the hope of claiming his place in history. Instead, he’s facing a lifetime ban.

Horvath and his buddies wrapped an octopus snugly around his stomach and concealed their secret cargo under a Gordie Howe all-star jersey ahead of the Wings’ home opener last week in the team’s new home. Every detail was carefully planned but everything went wrong when the eight-legged animal went airborne.

The octopus arched through the air and slid across the ice, eliciting a roar from the sellout crowd. The tossing of cephalopods has long been a popular pastime for Wings’ fans but it’s one officials frown upon.  Horvath hardly had time to celebrate before security guards grabbed the back of his jersey and whisked him away. 

“The crowd was going nuts,” said Horvath. “As they were escorting me out people were booing them, ‘Let him go!’ People were high-fiving me, giving me spanks on the butt, slaps on the butt … everyone loved it.”

Nick Horvath, octopus, Red Wings

Horvath throws the first-ever octopus on the ice. Red Wings fans have been taking part in the tradition for decades. (Nick Horvath)

Everyone, it turns out, except for staff at the Little Caesars Arena, who escorted him to police, where he was charged with a misdemeanour offence and told he wasn’t welcome back to the rink — ever.

“The two supervisors of security told me I’m done,” he said. “I think it’s very stiff. If they want to fine me I understand, if they wanted to ban me for a year … I can deal with that, but to get banned forever? That can’t happen.”

Fans have been throwing octopuses on the ice at Red Wings’ games for 65 years. The Legend of the Octopus began during the 1952 playoffs, when the creature’s eight wriggling appendages symbolized the number of wins necessary to capture the Stanley Cup.

Predators Red Wings Hockey

Al Sobotka, building operations manager for Olympia Entertainment, swirls an octopus tossed to the ice during the third period of an NHL game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators. (Carlos Osorio/The Associated Press)

Horvath carved out a piece of that legend for himself last year when historic Joe Louis Arena closed, by throwing the final octopus onto the ice. Back then, he claims, the ushers and security were ecstatic and gave him props along with the rest of the fans.

The lifelong Red Wings’ fan has been to “hundreds of games,” and is covered in Detroit-themed tattoos. He has enough team memorabilia to “fill a barn.”

Nick Horvath, octopus

Nick Horvath shows off some of his Red Wings tattoos and memorabilia. The team’s superfan received a lifetime ban from the new Little Caesars Arena for throwing the first octopus on the ice. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Last Thursday, he and his buddies were excited to make another memory with the team.

He got up early and headed to the store where he discovered the smallest octopus they had was an eight-pound monster. Undeterred, he began his preparations.

“You wrap up the octopus by itself into a little ball, put it on your stomach, and have a buddy wrap some more saran wrap on there, tight,” he explained. “Once you throw the jersey on, you can’t even really tell.”

Nick Horvath, octopus, Red Wings

Horvath used saran wrap to bind an eight-pound octopus to his belly, to help him smuggle it into the arena. (Nick Horvath)

Because the behemoth was so large, Horvath said he was left looking like he had a bit of a beer belly.

“The whole thing is just slimy, it’s just going everywhere and you have to be delicate with it,” he added. “That stink stays on your hands for a couple days. It’s pretty bad.”

PETA wants practice stopped

PETA has campaigned against the tradition of throwing the “intelligent, sensitive animals” onto the ice, but Horvath said the way he sees it, the octopus is already dead.

“The store is selling it to get eaten. But I made him famous,” he said. “He can be famous or cut up into pieces.”

The superfan has spent the past days desperately trying to contact staff at the arena to learn more about the ban. So far, he said, his calls and emails have gone unanswered.

The Detroit Red Wings did not respond to CBC’s request for comment.

Horvath said his only hope now is to call in the big guns.

 “Grapes … I need you to chime in for me, please,” he said. “I want Don Cherry, I need him, I need you, Grapes. Help the boy out!”