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Octopus' garden remains Joe Louis Arena

by Evan Weiner

Detroit fans throw octopi onto the ice as a tradition symbolizing the eight victories needed to win the Stanley Cup during the NHL's early days.
It didn't take very long before the octopus landed on ice at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit in Game 1 of the opening round of this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. The octopus touched down during the national anthem moments before the opening faceoff between the Red Wings and Nashville Predators. The 2008 playoffs in Detroit had officially begun with the 56-year tradition of octopus throwing.
On April 15, 1952, Peter Cusimano, the owner of a local fish store, started the tradition by throwing one from the stands onto the ice. The eight legs were symbolic of the eight wins it took to win the Stanley Cup at the time. The Red Wings swept Toronto and Montreal en route to a Stanley Cup championship.

Cusimano tossed his sea creature during the second period in Game 4 against the Canadiens in the final game of the series at the Olympia. At the time, a pound of octopus was pretty costly -- and still is -- so octopus tossing is a rather expensive tradition that Peter and his brother Gerry started. Red Wings defenseman Marcel Pronovost eventually would get the octopus off the ice on April 15, 1952 as no one wanted to go near it.

The tradition moved from the Olympia to the Joe Louis Arena when the Red Wings switched arenas in 1979. The tradition has been passed down for generations.
In the 1995 playoffs, Bob Dubisky and Larry Shotwell, workers at a meat and seafood retail company near Detroit, threw a 38-pound octopus onto the ice during the National Anthem prior to Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. In 1996, Dubisky and Shotwell tossed a 50-pound octopus during the conference finals.
The Red Wings organization has so embraced the octopus toss that it has its own mascot, Al the Octopus, which is a giant, purple, eight-armed cephalopod that sits on a roof outside Joe Louis Arena.
Al got his name from Al Sobotka, the building operations manager and Zamboni driver at Joe Louis Arena, who in past years has removed the octopus from the ice. Sobotka is as much a part of Detroit folklore as Gordie Howe, Sid Abel, Ted Lindsay, Steve Yzerman, muscle cars and Motown songs.
Red Wings players like the tradition. It is a part of hockey and a part of Detroit's history, but there are others who can do without the octopus, starting with referees and linesmen. Most of them are like Matt Pavelich, who was a linesman for 31 years starting in 1955 and the first linesman elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Pavelich, whose brother Marty was a member of the Red Wings in 1952 when Cusimano flung his first octopus on ice, would rather have gone out to dinner with his wife and eat octopus than have to witness it first hand on the ice.
"I never picked it up either," Pavelich said. "We used to get a hockey stick or something and gathered it and brought the ice cleaning crew out and they brought out a shovel and took it off the ice. I don't know (if it splatters) but it is out there, and besides, I don't if it was frozen or fresh or what. I didn't look at it that closely."
The Detroit Red Wings organization has so embraced the octopus toss that it has its own mascot, Al the Octopus.
Pavelich saw his first octopus in the late 1950s soon after he started in the League as a 22-year-old linesman. Marty and Matt Pavelich were the first player-linesman brother combination in NHL history.
"You knew it was going to come because it is a tradition in Detroit," Pavelich said. "Somebody is going to throw it onto the ice. It has been a part of Detroit playoff hockey. It doesn't bother me. In fact it is a very, very good delicacy. My wife was from the Adriatic Sea (which is between the Italian and Balkan peninsulas) and we had octopus quite often at home. It is a very very good delicacy.
"I should (have taken it home) because of the price you pay for it, it is very very expensive stuff. It is at times even more expensive than steak."
Pavelich doesn't remember any referees or linesmen who were squeamish or frightened, although long time ref Red Storey was on the lookout for the octopus during his days officiating in the 1950s.

"Our guys were pretty good with it. It was more or less a thing that delayed the game and we more or less tried to get it off the ice as quickly as possible and get on with the game. Once was alright because it was a signal that the playoffs were on. At one time there was just the one, but it got to a point there after a few years when there was five, six, seven of them thrown onto the ice after a while, I don't think it added anything to the game. When there was five, six, seven of them, it was no fun," he said.
Cleaning up the ice is a part of the linesmen's and referees' jobs. If there are small items on the ice the officials will pick things up to ensure everyone's safety. The octopus, though, is a different story.
"It is your job, you are involved in the game and if you have to do something that, I don't think we are supposed to be out there ... when there is too much water on the ice sometimes players want you to sweep it off. That's not our job," said Pavelich. "We usually bring the crew out to do that. That's their job. Not only that, but the crew, sometimes they want to do it because a lot of them are union guys and if they do a little extra work they make extra money."

The octopus tradition is unique to Detroit, and even though people really should not be tossing anything onto the ice, somehow people get the octopus into the building and onto the ice eventually.

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