Red Wings terminate longtime operations manager Al Sobotka
Detroit — Al Sobotka, longtime Zamboni driver and favorite of Red Wings fans, has been terminated by the organization, sources confirmed with The Detroit News on Wednesday afternoon.
Sobotka was long known for twirling an octopus and igniting the crowds at Joe Louis Arena and Little Caesars Arena, specifically during the playoffs.
There was no immediate comment from the Red Wings. It also wasn't immediately clear what caused the termination.
Sobotka said in an official statement: "I loved my 51 years with the Detroit Red Wings, and would have been happy to stay 51 more."
Sobotka was the popular building operations manager/Zamboni driver/barbecue chef for the team and generally one of the more popular Wings figures off the ice, especially come playoff time.
Sobotka, 68, began his career at The Olympia on the midnight shift sweeping floors, making $3.25 per hour. He's been part of the organization for 51 years.
As far as swinging of the Octopus come playoff time, or whenever there’s one splatted on the ice?
The entire tradition dates to the 1950s, but Sobotka raised the popularity of it in the early 1990s during a playoff series against Chicago when he picked up an octopus and gave it a little twirl over his head.
“People seemed to like it,” Sobotka said in a story on the closing of Joe Louis Arena in 2017. Sobotka added he was encouraged by late owner Mike Ilitch to have fun and keep doing it because fans enjoyed it. “I do it because the fans seem to like it."
The matter became national during the 2008 playoffs when the NHL issued a warning and said the Red Wings would be fined if Sobotka twirled an octopus. But the NHL relented soon after, and Sobotka would do his twirling near the Zamboni gate and not on the ice.