NHL fans cheer and they boo. They celebrate game-winning goals and they mock chant opponents. They even have creative ways to suggest referees get glasses.
But for a select few, it’s not enough to vocalize their support or disdain. These visionaries bring their feelings to the forefront by covertly bringing odd objects into an arena and catapulting them on the ice. Though it often slows down the game, calling for cleaning crews to be deployed, there’s no denying it adds a smidgen more entertainment value for the rest of us.
Be warned though. These days, if you throw something other than a hat onto the ice, you’ll likely be escorted out of the arena by security. Paying top dollar for seats close to the ice won’t help your case, either. With an eye toward safety, arenas have been clamping down on spectators who lob stuff to the ice, barring them from returning for a season, leveling fines and in a few cases also handing out criminal records.
Here’s a look at fifteen of the more memorable traditions and odditites that have made the ice surface.
Alright, this isn’t crazy, but it’s too obvious to ignore. No one really knows for sure how celebrating a “hat trick” by tossing hats was first celebrated.
One theory suggests the tradition of throwing hats on the ice began in the 1950s with the New York Rangers’ OHL farm team, the Guelph Baltimore Mad Hatters. According to the story, the team’s sponsor, the titular haberdashery, would apparently award any player to score a hat trick with a fedora.
Another tale claims it was a Toronto-based hat manufacturer that started the tradition of awarding hats to players who tallied three goals in a game.
Once collected, hats are often presented to the player who scored the hat trick in the dressing room.
“If the player who achieved the hat trick wants them, they’re his,” said Jason Rademan, media relations for the Dallas Stars.
Some players actually pick out one to keep, but the rest are either tossed due to health concerns or donated to local charities. The Columbus Blue Jackets have a giant transparent hat bin on the main concourse of their arena that houses all the hats the team has collected since the franchise’s first hat trick, according to Karen Davis of the Jackets.
A few seasons ago, disgruntled Toronto Maple Leafs fans who were so frustrated by their team’s futility and decades of abysmal play chucked their sweaters (jerseys for newcomers). Dubbed “Jersey-gate”, the protest got three fans a fine and yearlong ban from Toronto’s Air Canada Centre for their disruptive behavior.
Similar jersey chuckings occurred in Edmonton a few years ago, when frustrated Oilers fans tried to show their disappointment and make a statement.
Left wing Jeff Cowan put up 81 points in 413 NHL games. More notably was his 695 penalty minutes. So when the Los Angeles Kings waived him in December 2006, the Vancouver Canucks — a team without much grit — quickly added the enforcer to their squad.
After joining the team, Cowan lived the life of a scorer for a little over a week, netting six goals in four games. One of his admirers was so excited that she showed her support by surrendering hers. The woman tossed her bra onto the ice while the crowd raucously chanted his name. It earned a new nickname: Cowan the Bra-barian.
What’s incredible is that the Canucks chose to embrace the spectacle when they auctioned off a team-autographed bra to raise money for breast cancer research. Two cups…errr…thumbs up!
Undrafted Ottawa Senators goalie Andrew Hammond earned the nickname ‘The Hamburglar’ when he went on an incredible 20-1-2 tear to push his team into the playoffs. With that moniker, fans honored their 27-year-old winning goaltender by throwing a barrage of hamburgers onto the ice.
In December 2010, a disgruntled Toronto Maple Leafs fan leggo of his Eggo, chucking it on the ice in the Air Canada Centre. Using the Twitter handle “EGGO_BOMBER”, the person who claimed responsibility for the golden pastry had a clear message to the team: wake up and eat the most important meal of the day!
Leafs management was not amused, giving the fan a lifetime ban from the Air Canada Centre, who later complained, “People throw hats when they think they’re playing good. Why can’t we do something to show disapproval for what’s happened over the past 44 years?”
While taking his turn during a shootout, Philadelphia Flyer Wayne Simmonds had a banana hurled his way by a fan in London, Ontario during an exhibition game. According to The Toronto Star, the 26-year-old fan was charged with “engaging in a prohibited activity under the provincial Trespass to Property Act.” Simmonds took the high road and stayed classy, brushing off the incident in an interview.
“I don’t know if it had anything to do with the fact I’m black. I certainly hope not. When you’re black, you kind of expect (racist) things. You learn to deal with it. It shocked me and knew I had to keep going and get a shot off.”
Simmonds acknowledged the banana rattled him, and his only thought was to get off a shot — which went in for the Flyers’ only score in the shootout.
As a newcomer to the league in 1998, Nashville didn’t have a history to drawn upon. So fans took inspiration from the Red Wings’ use of octopi, and began chucking catfish onto the ice at Bridgestone Arena. The tradition dates back to 2002 as locals have visited their favorite seafood stores to acquire the ray-finned fish with whisker-like barbels.
Though not tightly associated with Nashville, catfish is popular in the south and if Predator fans like to hurl them, more power to them. Especially when they’ve gone through the trouble of wrapping it up, strapped it their leg or back and getting through security.
Most people see a rat and get grossed out. Not Scott Mellanby. Before the Florida Panthers home opener in 1995-96, Mellanby killed a rat that was found in the Florida locker room by shooting it across the floor. He then scored two goals that night in a 4-3 win, leading teammate John Vanbiesbrouck to call it the “rat trick” during a post-game interview.
At the next Panther game, after a Florida goal, a fan tossed a plastic rat onto the ice. The rat brought good luck as the Panthers made it to the Stanley Cup Final that season, ultimately losing to the Colorado Avalanche.
It’s since been banned due because it was delaying the game so much. In fact, the NHL changed the rules to allow for a team to be given a delay of game penalty if fans throw things on the ice, outlined in section 9, statute 63.4 of the regulation book. Goalies would even take cover inside their nets to avoid getting hit by rat rain.
The tradition of throwing an octopus on the ice began on April 15, 1952 at the beginning of the playoffs. The six-team league had two best-of-seven rounds, so eight wins (or eight tentacles) meant a Stanley Cup. The eight-legged moluscs were chucked onto the ice at Detroit Olympia at the start of the series by Red Wing fans Pete and Jerry Cusimano for good luck. The Wings swept both the Leafs and Canadiens to win the Cup. And one of hockey’s most iconic good luck symbols was born.
Cleaning up the beasts is not for the weak. “They are so gross. They’re huge, they’re heavy, they stink and they leave this slimy trail on the ice. But, hey, if it’s good for the team, I guess we can deal with it.”
In Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals this year, when the Nashville Predators were hosting the Anaheim Ducks, a fan threw what appeared to be a dead mallard onto the ice. The Ducks won the game, 3-2. This was not the first time a duck was tossed to rile the team from Anaheim.
One can only imagine if Anaheim played the Predators while Paul Gaustad was on the team. They could play ‘Duck, Duck, Goose.’ No need to leave a comment in the comment section on that one… I’ll groan for you now.
Apparently hockey fans like their seafood chilled. In 2007, a San Jose Sharks fan managed to smuggle a four-foot leopard shark into HP Pavilion (now the SAP Center) during Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals with the Detroit Red Wings. It was then chucked onto the ice during play.
The feat has been copied since then, when these two teams met during the playoffs. In an elaborate scheme in 2010, a fan threw a shark to the ice with an octopus sewn into its mouth, seemingly to represent the Wings. Points for creativity.
Robbie Ftorek’s played in 334 NHL games, but one of his most well-known highlights came as a coach of the New Jersey Devils.
After Jay Pandolfo, a Devil, raced to nullify icing and was plastered from behind, face-first into the boards. Gushing blood, the refs let the play continue as the Red Wings came down the ice and scored. Outraged, Ftorek blew a gasket and chucked a bench onto the ice. He was ejected from the game and suspended for another. Pandolfo needed 84 stitches.
Fans aren’t the only ones that can express their feelings. In 1991, Los Angeles Kings’ coach Tom Webster was so ticked off at referee Kerry Fraser that he threw a tantrum as well as his players sticks at the well-coifed zebra, javelin-style. The handiwork earned Webster a 12-game suspension — the longest penalty ever given to a coach by the league. The Kings were also fined $10,000.
“In handing down this decision, the league wishes to make it clear that there can be no excuse for taking physical actions against any official,” NHL Vice President Brian O’Neill said in a prepared statement.
By the time Avery was in a Rangers’ uniform, he had already played 139 games for the Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings, so teams knew what to expect from him.
The New York Rangers threw Sean Avery onto the ice for 264 games, usually to be their agitator. Though he scored 45 goals for the Blue Shirts, it was one of the most consistently offensive things any NHL team has tossed onto the ice in the modern era. He even has a rule named after himself.
After retiring in 2012, the eclectic Avery began working at an advertising and creative agency in New York City, but the firm closed without notice in September 2013, reportedly due to financial problems.
You won’t get thrown out of the arena for this one. Several minor league teams share the Christmas holiday season tradition of having fans toss plush teddy bears on the ice, usually after the home team scores its first goal.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”