The Teddy Bear Toss: A Touching Tradition Connecting Hockey and Charity

Photo Credit: Andrew Fielder (ITR)

One of the most popular events during minor league hockey games is the “Teddy Bear Toss” promotion. Fans are encouraged to bring stuffed toys or teddy bears to the game and throw them onto the ice when the home team scores its first goal. These toys are then collected, counted, and donated as gifts to hospitals and charities, with amateur and pro clubs around the world typically partnering with a variety of local charities for distribution. In a heartwarming twist, players often visit children’s hospitals in the area to hand out the bears themselves.

Marketing director Don Larson of the Kamloops Blazers is credited with originating the concept of the Teddy Bear Toss, which was first held in 1993. When Brad Luckovich scored a goal on December 5th of that year, fans threw over 2,400 bears onto the ice. This tradition grew rapidly throughout the Canadian Hockey League and beyond. The event you see today at various AHL and ECHL games each season has evolved and grown since that time.

The Hershey Bears claimed a new AHL record last season when they gathered 67,309 stuffed toys during their event on January 29, 2023. This season, they aim to surpass that record when they host their event on January 7, 2024. The Bears have been rather successful at this event, collecting thousands of bears each year, except for 2020 and 2021, when the event was not held due to COVID-19-related concerns.

Other AHL teams have gotten in on the cuddly action, though. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins each held their events this past weekend, and both hope to post their respective tallies soon. A few other AHL teams have events coming up as well, including but not limited to the Ontario Reign (12/16), Chicago Wolves (12/16) and the Henderson Silver Knights (12/30).

The ECHL has had roughly 16 Teddy Bear Tosses so far this season, with another 12 events slated to happen between now and mid-January, seeing all teams in the league participating in the tradition. Of those ECHL teams we have gathered stats on so far, the Teddy Bear Toss has offered fans a fun way to contribute to local charities, while supporting their favorite team on the ice. The Jacksonville Icemen, having held their toss earlier this month collected a staggering 14,762 teddy bears. The South Carolina Stingrays are close behind the Icemen with 14,237 bears being thrown upon the ice. Upcoming teams hosting their toss events this weekend include the Adirondack Thunder, Atlanta Gladiators, and Indy Fuel, just to name a few.

Teams often come up with special jerseys for their Teddy Bear Toss events. The Florida Everblades’ game last Saturday was no exception, as the team displayed jerseys with a unique theme. However, what made these jerseys special was the fact that they were hand-drawn by children from the Golisano Children’s Hospital. The main crest logo on the Teddy Bear Toss jersey was designed by Jayden Torres, a young fan who has a rare disease. Jayden was present at the Teddy Bear Toss game last year but was unable to join the team for the delivery of bears to the local hospital the following week due to his illness. This year, Riley Fiddler-Schultz scored the first goal for the Icemen to activate the toss, and the jerseys designed by Jayden were auctioned off to fans after the game.

Photo Credit: Florida Everblades (via Facebook)

If a team gets shut out during the Teddy Bear Toss event, don’t worry! Fans will still be able to toss teddy bears onto the ice after the game. This was the case with the Hershey Bears event in the previous season. The team encountered something they had never faced before in the event’s history: no teddy-tossing goal due to a shutout. The fans had been asked to not toss their bears until the end of regulation, but Bears’ fans had other plans. The Bears reportedly had to contact the league office and the final five seconds of the game were ultimately erased, thus ending the contest, as fans continued to throw their bears out onto the ice. Though this story has a happy ending, fans should always wait until given the go-ahead by the team to begin tossing their bears if a shutout appears to be imminent.

Fun fact: On the AHL level, the toss-initiating goal has never been scored in the third period, with five goals being scored in the second period and the remainder in the first period of play.

This promotion has been successful in other sports as well, such as basketball and soccer, and has even expanded globally to both Europe and Australia. During a match on October 1, 2023, Polish football club Jagiellonia Białystok’s supporters tossed 109,407 stuffed animals onto the field, claiming a new world record.

The NHL officially discourages the tossing of any items on the ice, so you won’t see the Teddy-Bear Toss event held at any of their games. But that’s all right, we’ll happily continue this beloved hockey tradition on our own. Would you like to be a part of the fun? Check your local AHL or ECHL team’s promotional schedule, and, fingers crossed, you’ll get the chance to toss some fluffy goodness onto the ice and bring happiness to a child in need.

Photo: Rick Crossman for Inside The Rink

Photo: Bernie Walls for Inside The Rink

Photo: Andrew Fielder for Inside the Rink

Photo Credit: Joe Roberts (11.28.23) via “X” @RobertsOnTheMic

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

In episode 8 of the Inside The Rink podcast, Matty and Smitty are joined by new co-host Conrad Jack. After the long hiatus, we get back to hockey with a PACKED episode!Matt Rempe & the Devils vs. Rangers Line BrawlCould the Vancouver Canucks squander a playoff opportunity? Have the Winnipeg Jets finally figured out their lines?Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella is a sound byte MACHINEOvechkin is on his way to 895, Who is next?McDavid joins elite company with 100 Assists in a seasonRyan Hartman was suspended 3 Games, was it worth 3 games??Can Auston Matthews hit 70 Goals this season?The Eastern Conference Wild Card race is heating up, who lands the two playoff berths?For all of your hockey news and more from the show, visit us at insidetherink.com and watch us on YouTube! How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
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Karen Zehner

Credentialed Beat Writer covering the ECHL Atlanta Gladiators. Diving into the world of slap shots, penalty kills, and the game we love. [@RunwithK] on socials

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