Photo of a Washington Capitals game at Capital One Arena during a hat trick cleanup. 

Image Credit: Geoff Livingston (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hockey's hat trick tradition is perhaps the most unique tradition in all of professional sports. For those of you that may not follow the National Hockey League as closely as other sports, a hat trick is when one player scores three goals in one game. To honor the player's performance, the hockey fans in the stands will then throw their hats onto the ice. 

As usual with old tales and traditions, how hockey's hat trick tradition began is often disputed. There are three common explanations of the tradition's origin and all involve Canadian hat store owners giving free hats to hockey players that scored three goals during a game.

  • Guelph, Ontario. - The Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters were members of the Ontario Hockey Association and were a minor league affiliate of the New York Rangers. The team was sponsored by Biltmore Hats, a local hat manufacturer. The company would frequently give Mad Hatters players a free hat if they scored three goals during a single game. 
  • Toronto, Ontario. - Chicago Blackhawks player Alex Kaleta walked into a Toronto hat store during the 1946-1947 season. Kaleta found a hat that he wanted but could not afford. Sammy Taft, the store's owner, told Kaleta that he could have the hat if he scored three goals on January 26th, 1946 vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kaleta didn't just score three goals, he scored four but the Blackhawks lost to the Maple Leafs 6-5. The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto recognizes this story to be the most likely origin of the hat trick. 
  • Montreal, Quebec. - The Henri Henri hat store in downtown Montreal also takes credit for creating the hat trick tradition. The store still stands today and according to Henri Henri's website, owner Honorious Henri awarded all players that scored three goals at Montreal Forum with a free hat. However, this agreement took place between Henri and players from 1950-1970; a few years after the Alex Kaleta and Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters stories. 




The all time hat trick leaders in NHL history are

1. Wayne Gretzky - 50.

2. Mario Lemieux - 40.

3. Mike Bossy - 39.

4. Brett Hull - 33.

5. Phil Esposito - 32.


Photo of the hat trick display at Nationwide Arena. Home of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  

Image Credit: Mark Mauno (CC BY 2.0)

Many of you are probably wondering what happens to all of the hats that are thrown onto the ice during games. Hats that are thrown onto the ice in the National Hockey League will either be put on display inside the arena, given to the player that scored the hat trick or donated to charity.  The Columbus Blue Jackets have every single hat thrown onto their ice on display on the main concourse of Nationwide Arena. It's a neat display; be sure to check it out if you're ever there to see a game. 

There are also various spin-offs of the hat trick tradition in the National Hockey League. The Florida Panthers' rat trick is a tradition in which Florida Panthers fans throw toy rats onto the ice after a player scores a hat trick. This tradition began before the Panthers season opener in 1995 when right winger Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the team's locker room. Mellanby then used the same stick to score two goals during that evening's game. 

There is also the "Gordie Howe hat trick" which takes place when a player scores a goal, notches an assist and gets in a fight during the game. The term pays homage to NHL legend Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings who was known both his fighting and scoring abilities. Brendan Shanahan, another legendary player that played for the Detroit Red Wings, holds the record for the most career Gordie Howe hat tricks with 17.  




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