Red Wings building manager Al Sobotka spoke with the Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker regarding the art of twirling octopi:
As the Kraken made their first appearance in an “Original Six” market here Wednesday night, they had to hope Sobotka wouldn’t become a part of the show yet again. Besides driving the Zamboni, Sobotka, 68, is the guy in charge of picking up dead octopuses — yes, you read that correctly — thrown on the ice by fans at Little Caesars Arena. He is known to get somewhat rambunctious about it.
“Usually I grab it, give it a twirl and it riles up the crowd,” said Sobotka, who began working Red Wings games in 1971-72. “We had two this year, I believe, and I swung one here a few games ago. And of course the crowd got all going, and we won the game.”
That Nov. 13 game saw the Red Wings fall behind Montreal 1-0 before Dylan Larkin tied things up in the second period, prompting the octopus toss from the stands. After Sobotka got the crowd going with a lasso-style twirl, Detroit scored again a minute later and wound up winning in overtime.
The so-called Legend of the Octopus tradition dates to 1952 when Detroit fishmongers Pete and Jerry Cusimano realized the creatures had eight tentacles — then the number of playoff wins needed to capture the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings were 7-0 that postseason and looking to become the first NHL team to enjoy a perfect playoff run, which they did by winning their eighth game after the Cusimano brothers threw their octopus on the ice.
Initially, the creatures would be thrown only in playoff games, either after the national anthem was played or when the Red Wings had scored. But because the team has not made the postseason since 2015-16, some fans throw them after regular-season goals.
Things haven’t always gone smoothly for lifelong Detroit resident Sobotka during his performances.
“I’ve had a tentacle break off,” he said. “And once somebody threw one that was partially frozen, so I couldn’t really twirl it.”