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Tomorrow evening will feature the first game of the Detroit Red Wings season. This bold team of lovable* misfits will take to the ice against the hockey team from Ottawa–the name isn’t listed but they have some sort of classical footsoldier as a mascot so we’ll call them the Ottawa Hopelites. [maybe you should understand at least something about hockey before writing about it—ed.]
Anyway, even more exciting than the actual game between the Redwings and the Hopelites is the unofficial mascot of the Red Wings. In a post concerning mollusk mascots from around the world, alert reader Ryon Lancaster commented that we had overlooked the mascot for the Detroit Red Wings, a purple hockey-playing octopus named Al. Apparently the legend of Al started back in April 15, 1952, when fishmongers Pete and Jerry Cusimano decided to throw an octopus onto the ice at Olympia Stadium. The eight tentacles of the cephalopod were meant to mystically represent the eight victories required to win the Stanley Cup (the ice hockey championship trophy). Sure enough the magical mollusk brought the team to championship victory and ever since then fans have thrown deceased octopuses onto the ice at their home stadium—especially during playoff matches. As the Red Wings’ octopus tradition deepened, the purple mascot Al coalesced from fan art and from oral tradition. Al takes his name from a former building operations manager, Al Sobotka, who exhibited great elan whenever he removed octopuses from the ice. Apparently Sobotka had a special octopus twirling technique which whipped the fans up (albeit at the expense of distributing octopus particles onto the ice and the crowd).
As you might imagine, NHL officials have mixed feelings about this fan tradition. In 2008 hockey officials banned Al Sobotka’s octopus twirling and the duty of removing octopus corpses has fallen to linesmen and icegirls. The stadium itself added a large octopus prop during the 1995 playoffs. This huge octopus totem was ceremonially raised to introduce the team. Later on it was given glowing red eyes (which light up during goals), a number eight hockey jersey, and a broken tooth. Since it now requires winning 16 games to win the Stanley Cup, there are two Al the octopuses hanging above the ice at playoff time.
Naturally a number of other teams have tried to imitate the seafood throwing craze including San Jose, (where fans threw a shark), Boston (lobster), and Vancouver (Salmon). The only other team which appears to be establishing a continuing tradition of throwing deceased aquatic creatures on the ice is the Nashville Predators (why does Nashville have a hockey team?): predators fans have been known to throw large catfish onto the ice. A weary ice attendant, Jessica Hanley is reported to have said “’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.”
*actual boldness and lovability may vary