Al the Octopus is the eight-legged mascot of the Detroit Red Wings. It is also the only mascot that is not costumed. Being an octopus, his jersey number is #8.
The 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.
In one game in the 1995 playoffs, fans threw forty-five onto the ice. Arena Manager and Zamboni driver Al Sobotka ceremoniously scoops them up and whirls them over his head, and play continues.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman forbade him from doing so during the 2008 playoffs, claiming that debris flew off the octopuses and onto the ice. Sobotka and the Red Wings have denied that this occurs, but even so, he acquiesced and now twirls the octopuses once he departs the ice.
In 2011, the NHL forbade fans from throwing any octopuses on the ice, penalizing all violators with a $500 fine which led to local outcry at the seemingly intentional destruction of a classic tradition. Red Wings forward Johan Franzen has pledged to pay any and all fines as an attempt to continue the tradition.
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.