The octopus figures to be thrown the last week in March. For over a decade tradition has dictated that when the Detroit Red Wings skate in the Stanley Cup playoffs in their home Olympia Stadium, one of their fans throws a real, honest-to-Pete octopus onto the ice before the opening face-off. The octopus is always bought at the same Detroit fish shop, but local historians have been unable to find the origin of this charming custom, which reaches as far back as the memory of most fans. They shrug the octopus off as merely one of the many weird objects that hockey fans throw. It does not have the same hostile implications, however, as eggs (below) or overshoes. For one thing, an octopus cannot be aimed. Anyone doubting that is invited to get an octopus from his refrigerator and try to throw a high hard one.
Even if the octopus were hostile, there are two men who would be relatively safe from it in Detroit. One, of course, is Gordie Howe, that marvelous old lamplighter who this season passes even Maurice Richard as top scorer in National Hockey League history. The other is Terry Sawchuk, who quit the Boston Bruins three years ago because his nerves, he said, were shattered. He rested for half a season, and now he is the goalie for the Wings and probably the finest goalie playing hockey today.
Sawchuk is a marvelous goaltender to behold. Perhaps you saw him on television last Saturday against the Rangers, exhibiting the special pride which makes him a hated figure in many cities but a hero in Detroit: he guards his net not merely as an object four feet high and six feet wide, but as if it were a precious tapestry that only he could protect. In pre-game warmups when his teammates are firing at him, he seems to enjoy catching the puck with his mitt, then inspecting it casually with the nonchalance you affect when looking over fruit at the market.
This season the reason the Wings have been able to battle with the Toronto Maple Leafs for second place has been the fine support Sawchuk has given his teammates. In the first six games of the season he gave up a total of five goals, and he has continued to play superbly for a team that has trouble scoring goals itself.
"One of the fine things about Terry," the Wings' coach, Sid Abel, says, "is he's a stand-up goalie. He doesn't fall all over the ice. He stands there and waits and usually takes the shot with his glove or brushes it away with his stick. You'll notice that not many people get rebounds off Sawchuk on long shots. When the puck comes in he stops it and clears it quickly away from the cage."
Sawchuk stood the other day in the lobby of New York's Hotel Roosevelt, a quiet and ruggedly handsome young man with a neatly tended black crew-cut. He was apprehensive on this particular day, and not too receptive to an interview. His wife was in a Detroit hospital about to have their fourth child. She had not been doing well and Sawchuk was worried.
"My wife is a Detroit girl," Sawchuk said, "and we live there the year around. I now have a business, which is working out quite well. A garbage-disposal business. Six trucks and our own dump. During the season I have to keep it as far from my mind as possible. The hardest thing for a goaltender to do is to relax. I can't worry about the business and tend goal at the same time. The pressure out on the ice during a game is tremendous. When a team is going well, the goaltender is always great in the public's eyes and in the eyes of the press. But let the team go bad and it's the coach's fault and the goaltender's fault in the eyes of the public."
One of the most noticeable things about Sawchuk is the way he constantly talks to his defense. "Well," he explained, "I do it because the defensemen are the most vulnerable men on the ice. The goaltender can look out and usually find where the puck is and where it might be going. But a defenseman is usually skating backward watching his man, and sometimes he hasn't the slightest idea where the puck is. That's why I'm always talking to the defense-men, to tell them where the puck is."
In the two months ahead it will be interesting to watch Terry Sawchuk and see just how long he can keep the Wings going; to see if he can fight off the enemy and protect whatever goals his teammates can muster. If he succeeds, and the Wings make the playoffs, then the fans at the Detroit Olympia ought to give Terry a gold octopus.