The holiday season is typically an exciting time within the hockey world. Though there are certainly fans who could be found at an ice rink any month of the year, for many people making the trip to see a hockey game just makes more sense when the temperatures are dropping outside. Even for the players themselves, the cold weather brings back memories of skating for hours outside on a frozen pond.
Across nearly all levels of the hockey landscape, there is one event each winter that is particularly memorable for all involved. A night where teams, fans and the giving spirit combine to make a spectacle that truly needs to be experienced live to fully appreciate: the Teddy Bear Toss. This special promotion returns to Central Indiana on Saturday, December 15 as the Indy Fuel host the Tulsa Oilers at Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
The premise of the Teddy Bear Toss is simple. Fans bring new or slightly-used stuffed animals with them to the game, throwing their plush cargo onto the ice surface once the home team scores its first goal of the night. After the waves of flying toys - in many cases numbering in the several thousands - are gathered, removed from the ice, and counted, they are donated to those in need in time for the holidays, via children's hospitals, shelters, and other organizations.
While the event is now an annual staple for countless minor league professional, junior and collegiate hockey teams across North America, many credit the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League for hosting the first-ever Teddy Bear Toss in 1993. Two-time Stanley Cup Champion Brad Lukowich (who was 17 at the time) scored the inaugural Teddy Bear Toss goal in the first period for the Blazers, starting a phenomenon that 25 years later is still captivating crowds and garnering national media attention.
While the promotion may have gotten its start in Kamloops, many in hockey circles will tell you it has been perfected by the WHL's Calgary Hitmen. In 23 years since adding the toss to their annual calendar, Calgary fans have flocked to the Scotiabank Saddledome (home of the NHL's Calgary Flames), amassing a current running total of 347,948 toys. The Hitmen's biggest Teddy Bear Toss to date came on Dec. 6, 2015, when a crowd of 19,289 hurled a staggering 28,815 stuffed animals on the ice - the largest number ever recorded at the time.
Interestingly enough, current Fuel forward Jordy Stallard happened to be right in the middle of Calgary's infamous 2015 Teddy Bear Toss. It happened to be Stallard - then playing for the Hitmen as an 18-year-old - who scored the goal that triggered the plush downpour.
“It's an exciting event to be a part of, and I was lucky enough to be able to participate in it the year prior [to the 2015 record Toss] as well. The boys were always ready for it, having the chance to play in front of about 20,000 fans at the Saddledome … It was a pretty incredible experience, and to top it off it is for a good cause,” Stallard explained. “We were fortunate enough to be able to distribute the bears ourselves in Calgary. Spending a full morning at the children's hospital, getting to meet the kids and seeing the smile on their face when we would hand them the teddy bear was a really special feeling.”
The Hitmen's 2015 toss stood as the undisputed world record until this year, when the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears shattered the mark on Dec. 2. After Riley Barber found the net midway through the first period, a crowd of 10,046 at Giant Center launched a total of 34,798 stuffed animals, eclipsing Hershey's previous franchise best of 25,017. According to the Bears' website, the toys will be distributed across 30 local charities around Central Pennsylvania.
Going into its fourth year as a part of the Fuel's promotional schedule, the Teddy Bear Toss has already taken hold among hockey fans in the Circle City. Indy played host to the event for the first time on Dec. 12, 2015, as a crowd of 5,097 launched a total of 4,273 critters onto the Indiana Farmers Coliseum ice surface. Over three years of Teddy Bear Tosses, the Fuel's running total of collected toys is already nearing the the 11,000 mark.
Through a partnership with Indiana Farmers Insurance and the local news network RTV6, the Fuel have donated their fuzzy cargo each year to the RTV6 Toy Drive - an annual initiative that has benefitted over 100,000 local children since 2001.
“The Teddy Bear Toss has quickly become one of our most popular promotions we host each season, and I think that has a lot to do with the positive impact the event can have year after year,” Fuel President and COO Larry McQueary said. “Not only does the game provide a great opportunity for our organization to give back to our community, it is fantastic to see all of our fans get involved as well.”
For many people the holidays are about tradition, and the best ones often involve helping others. In the years since the first stuffed animals were jettisoned onto the ice in Canada back in 1993, hockey fans have built something special in the Teddy Bear Toss - an event that at its core exemplifies the giving spirit. On December 15, the Fuel and their fans have the chance to show once again, that the best gift can be something as simple as a teddy bear.
“From people arriving with entire trash bags full of toys, to seeing a young child bringing a precious stuffed animal of their own to donate, it has been really heartwarming to how much the Indianapolis community has embraced the Teddy Bear Toss,” McQueary said. “It's amazing what can happen when everyone comes together to lend a helping hand to kids who truly need it this time of year.”
For tickets to the Indy Fuel's Teddy Bear Toss on Dec. 15, click here or visit the Indiana Farmers Coliseum box office.