The Runner Sports

Detroit Red Wings: Octopi Hockeytown

Octopi and hockey may not seem like the belong together. However, Detroit Red Wings fans would be quick to disagree. For as long as many people can remember, octopi have been flying at Detroit’s (mostly) home games, and since other teams have started tossing ducks, sharks, and catfish on the ice, it’s a tradition that doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon.

The history of Detroit and the octopi started in 1952; when eight straight playoff wins won a Stanley Cup. Pete and Jerry Cusimano, two brothers who owned a fish market, tossed an octopus onto the ice. Detroit then went on to sweep the playoffs. Ever since then, the octopus has been considered good luck for Detroit fans, and a tradition was born.

During the 1995 playoffs, the Red Wings unveiled their new mascot. It was a purple octopus wearing a number eight jersey named Al. During the playoffs, two Als can be found in the rafters. The legs represent the minimum sixteen playoff games a team has to win for a cup. Fans greeted their new mascot by throwing 54 octopi during the finals against the New Jersey Devils. The Wings may have lost the cup that year but Al and the tradition remain.

The octopus is named after Al Sobotka, the long time building manager for the Detroit hockey team.

Sobotka has worked in three arenas in building operations for the Detroit Red Wings. He started at the Cobo Arena until he moved with the team to the Joe Louis Arena. He worked at the Joe until 2017 when the team moved to the Little Caesars Arena and Sobotka went with them. Even though the 2017-18 season hasn’t started there were reports of Al driving a Zamboni to the new arena to get the ice ready for the upcoming season.

Red Wing fans love Al. Some show up early to games so they can watch him prepare the ice. There are competitions to ride with him in between periods, and maybe most importantly, he is the one who picks up most of the octopi that get tossed onto the ice.

Unlike some other people, including his own assistants, Al picks up the octopi up with his bare hands. The octopi are usually thrown in celebration and to keep the celebration alive. Al twirls the octopus around, which always gets a cheer from the crowd and gives fans another reason to love Al.

According to the official rules, a team could face a delay of game penalty if there is something thrown on the ice. However, this tends to not be enforced. Which is good news for Detroit. In 2008, the league threatened to fine the team if Al twirled the octopi over his head. The NHL said It was a safety concern since pieces could fly off and be left on the ice. It was later amended that he could twirl at the Zamboni gate, not just the entrance. So, for the last nine seasons that is exactly what he has been doing.

Throwing an octopus is not a choice that should be taken lightly. It is a great moment but if a fan is caught, they can be removed from the arena, and fined. The octopi also have to make it past security. That generally means taping the octopus to a stomach and hiding it under multiple layers of clothing. If that’s not enough to scare a fan off, there are two main rules for throwing an octopus on the ice that should be followed:

  • Boil the octopus first so it doesn’t stick to the ice.
  • Don’t throw it while the game is happening. It’s dangerous for the players.

Throwing octopi is a strange tradition, but its Detroit’s strange tradition. Many fans are proud that their team is rich in history and octopi are part of that. The ice has been put down at the Little Caesar’s Arena this week. Now we just have to wait until October to see the first octopus on it.

Allison Barbersek
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Allison Barbersek

Writer at The Runner Sports
I love animals and hockey, espeically the wings. I live in the Great Lakes Bay Area of Michigan.
Allison Barbersek
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