What happens to those hat-trick hats?

Ever wonder what happens to those hats hockey fans toss onto the ice after a player scores a hat trick? Turns out it depends on which team you cheer for.

Some NHL teams donate tossed caps to charity, while others put them on proud display

Hats litter the ice at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa after Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) pegged his third goal in the second period of his NHL debut against the Senators. (Marc DesRosiers/USA Today Sports via Reuters)

When Maple Leafs wunderkind Auston Matthews netted his third goal at the 1:25 mark of the second period in his NHL debut against the Ottawa Senators Wednesday night, he became an instant hockey legend, and ecstatic Toronto fans honoured a decades-old hockey tradition by making it rain hats.

There was the odd knitted tuque, but most of the hats that quickly covered the ice at Canadian Tire Centre were of the peaked ball cap variety.

Some looked like old favourites, worn, faded and worked in just so. Others looked like they might have been picked up that morning at sports shops that can charge upward of $50 for the coveted lids.

So what happens to all those hats after the rink attendants sweep them up and cart them away so the game can resume?

And what happens when a fan, caught up in the moment, flings their favourite headpiece over the glass, only to suffer a pang of post-celebratory regret?

Does anyone get their hat back?

The short answer is, yes. But very few bother.

"Almost none," confirmed Senators spokesman Brian Morris.

2 weeks to claim your cap

Once the hats are bagged or boxed, CTC's guest services team hangs on to them for about two weeks, during which time their owners can show up to claim them. In order to get their hat back, they must give a "specific description," Morris said.
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews celebrates a first period goal with teammate William Nylander during NHL hockey action in Ottawa on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The rest of the hats — the vast majority, it turns out — are sent to an organization that cleans them and donates them to local shelters.

Other NHL teams have different policies when it comes to their hat trick harvests. In 2010, the Carolina Hurricanes donated some 500 hats to three local hospitals, as requested by hat-trick scorer Eric Staal. But they only gave away the new-looking ones.

Some players prefer to keep some of the hats as mementos of their three-goal nights (Alexander Ovechkin is alleged to be one such cap collector.) Some teams, including the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Philadelphia Flyers, proudly display their vast collections of hat-trick hats behind glass.

Wednesday's haul 'relatively small'

So how many hats did they collect after Matthews's third goal at CTC Wednesday night?

"They're not counted," said Morris, who characterized Wednesday's haul as "relatively small" compared to, say, the number collected after Jean-Gabriel Pageau's playoff hat trick against the Montreal Canadiens in 2013. Of course, Pageau was playing in front of a home crowd. Matthews wasn't.

Look at it this way, Leafs fans: you may have lost your favourite cap on Wednesday, but you also got to witness hockey history. Now go out and buy yourself a new hat.

Hat trick facts

  1. The term hat trick originated in the game of cricket, where bowlers who took three consecutive wickets were presented with a hat. There are competing stories involving the hat trick's hockey origins. One story involves a Toronto haberdasher who in 1946 promised a handsome fedora to Chicago Blackhawks player Alex Kaleta if he could score three goals against the Maple Leafs that night. Kaleta did, and the tradition continued.
  2. According to The Hockey News, items besides hats that have been thrown on the ice include stuffed animals, extra pucks, fish, dead gophers, a bench, beer bottles, fake rats, octopuses and a prosthetic leg.
  3. Fans chucking stuff on the ice used to earn the home team a bench minor for delay of game, but the NHL relaxed the rules when the hat-throwing tradition caught on. Craftier franchises now encourage fans to throw their hats by offering special discounts on replacements.
    The Chicago Blackhawks ice crew picks up hats after Patrick Kane's third goal against the Boston Bruins on Sunday, April 3, 2016. (Jeff Haynes/Associated Press)