Legend of the Octopus

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Al the Octopus, the mascot of the Detroit Red Wings, was inspired by the 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 a National Hockey League 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 win the Stanley Cup.


The Legend of the Octopus began on April 15, 1952, when Pete and Jerry Cusimano, brothers and storeowners in Detroit's Eastern Market, hurled an octopus into the rink of Olympia Stadium. The team swept the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens en route to winning the championship.[1]

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).[2] The Red Wings' unofficial mascot is a purple octopus named Al, and during playoff runs, two of these mascots were also hung from the rafters of Joe Louis Arena, symbolizing the 16 wins now needed to take home the Stanley Cup.[3] The practice has become such an accepted part of the team's lore, fans have developed various techniques and "octopus etiquette" for launching the creatures onto the ice.[4]

On October 4, 1987, the last day of the regular Major League Baseball season, an octopus was thrown on the field in the top of the seventh inning at Tiger Stadium in Detroit as the Tigers defeated the Toronto Blue Jays, 1–0, clinching the American League East division championship.[5] In May of that year, the Red Wings had defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup playoffs.[6]

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.[7]

At the final game at Joe Louis Arena in 2017, 35 octopuses were thrown onto the ice.[8]

Twirling ban[edit]

Al Sobotka, the former head ice manager at Little Caesars Arena and one of the two Zamboni drivers, was the person who retrieved the thrown octopuses from the ice. When the Red Wings played at Joe Louis Arena, he was known to twirl an octopus above his head as he walked across the ice rink to the Zamboni entrance. On April 19, 2008, the NHL sent the Red Wings a memo that forbade this and imposed a $10,000 fine for violating the mandate. In an email to the Detroit Free Press, NHL spokesman Frank Brown justified the ban because matter flew off the octopus and got on the ice when Sobotka swung it above his head.[9] In an article describing the effects of the new rule, the Detroit Free Press dubbed the NHL's prohibition as "Octopus-gate".[10] 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.[11]

Events inspired by the octopus[edit]

The octopus tradition has launched several other creature and object tossing moments. During Game 3 of the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals between the Detroit Red Wings and the New Jersey Devils, Devils fans threw a lobster, a dead fish, and other objects onto the ice.[12]

Nashville Predators fans throw catfish onto their home ice.[13] The first recorded instance occurred on January 26, 1999 during a game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators. It was done in response to the Red Wings' tradition.[14][15]

In the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, during the opening-round series between the Red 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.[16]

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.[17]

In Game 1 of the 2010 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.[18]

In Game 2 of the 2010 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.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Legend of the Octopus". NHL.com. Archived from the original on June 28, 2017. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
  2. ^ Benvin, Paul (August 29, 2009). "8 Legged Freaks: The Legend of Detroit's Lucky Octopi". The Hockey Writers. Archived from the original on October 30, 2018. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  3. ^ Mallozzi, Vincent M. (May 20, 2007). "Wrapping His Arms Around the Red Wings". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 29, 2018. Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  4. ^ Bradsher, Keith (April 14, 1996). "When Octopuses Are Flying in Detroit It's..." The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 27, 2009. Retrieved June 11, 2008.
  5. ^ Carbray, Paul (October 5, 1987). "Jays Join '64 Phils in Baseball Infamy". The Gazette. p. C1. In the seventh inning yesterday, a fan threw an octopus that landed near the dugout of the Toronto Blue Jays.
  6. ^ Gave, Keith (October 6, 1987). "Tiger Corner". Detroit Free Press. p. 3D.
  7. ^ "Want to buy an octopus? Let's see some ID first". ESPN. May 23, 2008. Archived from the original on April 11, 2017. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  8. ^ Wyshynski, Greg (April 9, 2017). "Red Wings fans threw 35 octopuses on ice in Joe Louis Arena farewell". Yahoo Sports. Archived from the original on September 11, 2021. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  9. ^ "NHL bans octopus swinging; $10,000 fine for offenders". Detroit Free Press. April 19, 2008. Archived from the original on May 1, 2008. Retrieved May 10, 2008.
  10. ^ "Octopus-gate takes another dramatic turn". Detroit Free Press. April 25, 2008. Archived from the original on April 30, 2008. Retrieved May 30, 2008.
  11. ^ "Rejoice: Octopus twirling OK again!". Detroit Free Press. May 7, 2008. Archived from the original on November 7, 2015. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  12. ^ McKee, Sandra (June 23, 1995). "Devils dominate Red Wings, 5-2 1995 STANLEY CUP FINALS". The Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on June 22, 2021. Retrieved July 17, 2018.
  13. ^ Tucker, Cam (May 30, 2017). "Report: Predators fan charged after throwing catfish on ice during Game 1". NBC Sports. Archived from the original on June 2, 2017. Retrieved May 30, 2017.
  14. ^ Walker, Teresa M. (June 2, 2017). "Fish Tale From Nashville: How The Catfish Toss Came To Be A Predators thing". Hartford Courant. Associated Press. Archived from the original on June 8, 2017. Retrieved January 23, 2020.
  15. ^ Schmitt, Brad (April 12, 2018). "Predators: Why do Preds fans throw catfish during NHL Playoffs?". The Tennessean. Archived from the original on March 7, 2024. Retrieved January 23, 2020.
  16. ^ Brevorka, Jennifer (June 8, 2006). "Beef chucking ends". The News & Observer. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved October 1, 2007.
  17. ^ Albee, David (October 9, 2007). "Far-flung: The strange story of a man, a plan, the NHL playoffs and a dead fish". Marin Independent Journal. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  18. ^ Wyshynski, Greg (April 15, 2010). "Great moments in slithery: Fans throw snakes on Coyotes ice". Yahoo! Sports. Archived from the original on February 26, 2019. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
  19. ^ Wyshynski, Greg (May 10, 2010). "Inside story of how shark with octopus hit the ice in San Jose". Yahoo! Sports. Archived from the original on February 26, 2019. Retrieved January 23, 2020.