It’s one of the great traditions of the great game of hockey: a home player scores three goals in a contest and hats rain down from the stands, littering the ice and causing a happy – and unpenalized – delay of game.
The hat trick, a term that has transcended hockey to denote any time some difficult feat is accomplished three times, is said to have begun in Toronto in the late 1940s when a local haberdasher rewarded any Leafs player who scored thrice with a new hat. And the act of throwing headwear on the ice is thought by many to have begun in the same city sometime in the ’50s. Fans’ acknowledgement of the rare accomplishment endures, although fedoras and Ben Hogans have given way to beanies and baseball caps.
Tossing a ratty trucker cap is a no-brainer, but hurling that $30 team cap you bought during the last playoff run is another thing indeed. Yet it’s team hats that comprise the vast majority of hat-trick detritus. Hundreds of fans, unable to throw their own hearts on the ice, instead choose a prized souvenir as tribute. Such is the power of three goals in a game.
It becomes a spectacle, as the ice groomers sweep up the hats and then cart them off in large trash bins, as the cheering continues. But do these hats become trash? Mostly, no.
As it turns out, every NHL team has its own policy for dealing with these expressions of joy once they land, generally falling into one of three categories: display, donation or discard. Some organizations use or have used a combination of the three. “We keep ‘specimen’ hats in our archives and memorabilia, and nowadays the rest are collected and handed out to various charities, such as Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation,” said Carl Lavigne, the Canadiens’ manager, research and translation.
There have been 260 home hat tricks by Habs players, and hats have even been collected during road games, such as when Dale Weise scored three in 2015 in Calgary. “At the old Forum,” Lavigne said, “we put them on shelves underneath the stands where fans could recover their own hat after the game.”
The quaint idea of letting fans with thrower’s remorse reclaim their headgear persists, with the Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks and New York Islanders offering the option, either up until the game ends or, in the case of Vancouver, until 90 days later, from the lost and found. This raises the question: are fans who take back their hats truly team loyalists?
A growing trend is displaying the hats where all can enjoy them. The Philadelphia Flyers have been putting hats on display in the concourse of the Wells Fargo Center since the building opened in 1996. Long since full, they have been adding displays to the ceiling to accommodate the 600 to 800 hats they sweep up per hat trick. Each section includes a label commemorating the player and the date.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have also kept hats since the beginning, in a large glass bin with a hockey-board motif, players’ names and dates affixed to the outside. In 2014, the Washington Capitals installed a display in the concourse of the Capital One Arena, which is essentially a de facto shrine to Alex Ovechkin, who’s notched nine of the team’s 19 home hat tricks since 2008. The Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils, Winnipeg Jets and Carolina Hurricanes are hat hoarders, collecting them for potential future exhibits.
Many teams celebrate their hat tricks by giving the hats to worthwhile organizations, such as homeless shelters and hospitals. Sometimes there’s a twist: acknowledging that used hats may not be fit for donation, the Wild community relations department counts unclaimed hats and donates an equal number of new team caps to local cancer wards.
Only the Calgary Flames have a policy of throwing hats away. “Just like anything else thrown on the ice from the stands,” said Peter Hanlon, the Flames’ vice-president of communications. “Once it hits the ice, we consider it contaminated with sweat or other bodily fluids. Nor do we know where the hat was prior. It would be inappropriate to donate such an item to charity or to collect in a visible area for our fans.”
The Lightning celebrate hat tricks by offering a 50-percent discount to season-ticket holders and a 15-percent discount to other fans on new hats purchased before the end of the evening. So fans ruing their spontaneous decision can get a replacement on the cheap.
And what of, you know, the player who actually pulled off the feat? Surprisingly, just a few teams, including the Los Angeles Kings and Islanders, offer the hats to the intended recipient or his family. In the case of the Kings, if the player declines, the hats are donated to charity, although Michael Altieri, senior vice-president of communications and broadcasting, acknowledged that many organizations won’t accept used hats due to potential germs.
Making a great scientific leap forward in our collective knowledge of hat tricks, the Devils even did an analysis after Jaromir Jagr’s three-goal effort against the Flyers in January 2015 (see pg. 11 sidebar). Of the 130 hats thrown in tribute, 101 were baseball caps and 29 were winter hats. There were 95 Devils hats. Sixty-one hats were black, 22 red and 20 grey, the rest other colors. The team noted there were some unusual hats hurled, such as a Boston Red Sox 2013 World Series Championship cap and a Czech Republic national team hat.
According to the team, the Czech great never saw it.
What Do Teams Do With The Hats?
Anaheim Ducks: No set policy. Have donated some and included some in their Wall of Fame
Arizona Coyotes: Donate them to various charities, including hospitals and Goodwill
Boston Bruins:Player chooses one hat and signs and dates it. Team keeps it for posterity
Buffalo Sabres: Donate them to Buffalo City Mission, a homeless shelter
Calgary Flames: Discard them for sanitary reasons
Carolina Hurricanes: Offer them to the player, but most hats get stored in bags for future use
Chicago Blackhawks: Discard them for sanitary reasons
Colorado Avalanche: No official policy, but community relations department has given them away at events
Columbus Blue Jackets: Display hats in a glass “hockey boards” bin in the arena concourse
Dallas Stars: Donate them to Children’s Medical Center – Frisco Family Services
Detroit Red Wings: Depending on condition, donate them to local charities and homeless shelters
Edmonton Oilers: Hold them in storage at Rexall Place for possible future use at Rogers Place; they also donate some
Florida Panthers: Fans can claim hats until end of season, then they’re donated to a variety of youth organizations
Los Angeles Kings: Offer them first to the player; if declined, offer them to local youth organizations or hospitals
Minnesota Wild: Fans can reclaim them until end of the game. New hats equal to the number of unclaimed ones are donated to hospital cancer wards
Montreal Canadiens: Keep specimens for posterity. Rest are donated to various charities, including Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation
Nashville Predators: No official policy but usually donate them to an area homeless shelter
New Jersey Devils: Collect them for possible future display
New York Islanders: Offer to player’s family. Those that aren’t accepted are held at customer service for fans to reclaim during future games
New York Rangers: Give them to kids through the organization’s Garden of Dreams Foundation
Ottawa Senators: Bring them to concierge for fans to retrieve, then add them to lost and found. After a few weeks, usable items are cleaned and donated to charities
Philadelphia Flyers: Display them in cases in arena concourse
Pittsburgh Penguins: In recent years, donated them through “Hat Tricks 4 Humanity,” a teen-run church initiative that washed them and gave them away. That ended, and no new partnership in place yet
San Jose Sharks: Sharks Foundation sorts them by condition, then donates the good ones to local charities with which the team is affiliated
St. Louis Blues: Offer them to the player. Any remaining hats are given to St. Patrick’s Center, which distributes to the homeless.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Occasionally donate them to nonprofits; offer new ones at 50 percent off for season-ticket holders and 15 percent off for other fans for the rest of the evening
Toronto Maple Leafs: Donate them to charity, including Covenant House in Toronto, which serves homeless youths
Vancouver Canucks: Hold them in lost and found for 90 days, after which they are donated to Goodwill
Vegas Golden Knights: Plan a permanent display in the arena
Washington Capitals: Display them in the arena concourse (since 2008)
Winnipeg Jets: Collecting them for a planned exhibit at their practice facility, the Bell MTS Iceplex
This story appears in the August 20, 2018 issue of The Hockey News magazine.