This Legend of the Octopus tradition started on April 15, 1952, when two brothers, Pete and Jerry Cusimano, who owned a fish market, decided to throw an octopus onto the ice at Olympia Stadium, with the eight tentacles of the octopus symbolizing the eight wins it took to win the Stanley Cup at the time. The Red Wings were a perfect 7–0 in the playoffs and were one win away from not only winning the Cup, but becoming the first perfect team in the NHL's post season history. Sure enough the Red Wings won that game, and the media made mention of the octopus "omen" in the papers the following day, thus establishing the octopus legend in the process. Fans have been throwing octopuses onto the ice at Red Wings games ever since. The tradition died down somewhat in the 1970s and 1980s during the Red Wings dismal seasons, but when the Red Wings became contenders again in the '90s, the tradition resumed.
Eventually, a drawn purple octopus mascot was created, and in the 1995 playoffs a large Octopus prop was unveiled. The Octopus was eventually named "Al" (after Joe Louis Arena building operations manager Al Sobotka), and every playoff year since, Al the Octopus gets raised to the rafters, when the Red Wings skate out onto the ice. As the years went on some modifications were made to Al, such as making it so his pupils light up red (blinking on and off), the adding of a large Red Wing Jersey to his body, and the removal of a tooth in order to give Al that "hockey player" look. Al often appears on Red Wings apparel and promotional items. Coca Cola would later create stuffed Als, in their Fan in the Can or Al in the Can promotion. The promotion featured cases of Coke in which some cans were, in fact, containers holding the stuffed Al. Later, Michigan stores would carry the doll, and it would be sold via a mail-in.
There have been many other types of Al merchandise, such as stickers, inflatable dolls, and decals. During the 1996 playoff year, a CD called A Call to Arms was released featuring Al on the cover. Being an octopus, Al's jersey number is 8.
As it now takes 16 wins for the Red Wings to claim the Stanley Cup, there are now two Al's hanging from the rafters when the Red Wings are in the playoffs.
Legend of the Octopus
The Legend of the Octopus is a sports tradition during Detroit Red Wings home playoff games involving dead octopuses thrown onto the ice rink. The origins of the activity go back to the 1952 playoffs, when an NHL team played two best-of-seven series to capture the Stanley Cup. Having eight arms, the octopus symbolized the number of playoff wins necessary for the Red Wings to earn the Stanley Cup. The practice started April 15, 1952, when Pete and Jerry Cusimano, brothers and storeowners in Detroit's Eastern Market, hurled an octopus into the rink of The Old Red Barn. The team swept the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens en route to winning the championship, as well as winning two of the next three championships.
Since 1952, the practice has persisted with each passing year. In one 1995 game, fans threw 36 octopuses, including a specimen weighing 38 pounds (17 kg).
Events inspired by the octopus
The octopus tradition has launched several other object-tossing moments.
In the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs, during the opening-round series between the Wings and the Edmonton Oilers, an Edmonton radio host suggested throwing Alberta Beef on the ice before the game. Oilers fans continued throwing steaks, even at away games, resulting in several arrests at the away cities.
In the 2002–03 season, the Nashville Predators fans began throwing catfish onto their home ice, in response to the Red Wings tradition. The first recorded instance occurred on October 26, 2002 in a game between the Red Wings and the Predators. Jessica Hanley, who helps clean the ice in the Gaylord Entertainment Center, told the press: "They are so gross. They're huge, they're heavy, they stink and they leave this slimy trail on the ice. But, hey, if it's good for the team, I guess we can deal with it." This tradition continued in Game 3 of the 2008 Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators when Predator fans threw 4 catfish onto the ice.
During Game 4 of the 2007 Stanley Cup Western Conference Semifinals between the Detroit Red Wings and the San Jose Sharks, a Sharks fan threw a 3-foot leopard shark onto the ice at the HP Pavilion at San Jose after the Sharks scored their first goal with 2 minutes left in the first period.
During the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, in which the Red Wings defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, seafood wholesalers in Pittsburgh, led by Wholey's Fish Market, began requiring identification from customers who purchased octopuses, refusing to sell to buyers from Michigan.
In Game 1 of the 2009-10 Western Conference Quarterfinals between the Detroit Red Wings and the Phoenix Coyotes, a rubber snake was thrown onto the ice after a goal by the Coyotes' Keith Yandle.
In Game 2 of the 2009-10 Western Conference Semifinals between the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks, a small shark was tossed onto the ice with an octopus inside its mouth.
Al Sobotka, the Joe Louis Arena head ice manager and one of the two zamboni drivers, is the person who retrieves the thrown octopuses from the ice. After he retrieves an octopus, he has been known to twirl it above his head as he walks across the ice rink to the Zamboni entrance. On April 19, 2008, NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell sent the Detroit Red Wings organization a memo that forbade Zamboni drivers from cleaning up any octopuses thrown onto the ice and imposed a $10,000 fine for violating the mandate. The linesmen were instead instructed to perform any clean-up duties. In an email to the Detroit Free Press, NHL spokesman Frank Brown justified the ban because "matter flies off the octopus and gets on the ice" when Sobotka swings it above his head. In an article describing the effects of the new rule, the Detroit Free Press dubbed the NHL's prohibition as "Octopus-gate". By the beginning of the third round of the 2008 Playoffs, the NHL loosened the ban to allow for the octopus twirling to take place at the Zamboni entrance.