Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
It is that time of year again when hockey teams from across multiple leagues hold their annual Teddy Bear Toss, with all proceeds going to local charities. Fans bring and toss a stuffed animal onto the ice after the home team scores, resulting in a stoppage of play and thousands of cute stuffed toys spread on the ice. I went to my first one this week, and it was everything as advertised.
The Indy Fuel of the ECHL has been hosting their teddy bear toss for ten seasons, and the game usually sells out for the holiday event. Many arrive early carrying handfuls of stuffed animals, some with plastic bags stretched behind their backs and a few more double-fisting a bag full of stuffed bears.
Once inside the lobby, it is overflowing with fans with tables set up with several stuffed animals for those who came unprepared and others picking up tickets at the box office window. The holiday crowd brought out Santa Clause, who did not have to go through the metal detectors, as he sat down on his chair next to a live reindeer and took pictures with little boys and girls.
Once inside the seating bowl of the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, teddy bears the size of a small child took up seats against the windows. It was hard to spot a fan without a cuddly toy on their lap or in their hands. The densely crowded concourse was full of fans making their way to their seats in honorable fashion.
You could see many grabbing a bite to eat or a drink while having someone in their party hold on to the stuffed bear. If you were a fan of people-watching, this was the night to do so at the hockey game.
Finally, the face-off and the game commence against the Kalamazoo Wings. Each time a Fuel player skated towards the net, the crowd erupted with anticipation. The sound grew louder when a shout took place and deflected off the goalie’s stick or pad.
The game went back and forth with multiple shots on the net, a few hits against the boards, and several shots off the mark. The crowd wanted a goal, the public announcer wanted a goal, and I wanted a goal sitting on the top concourse of the building.
Finally, at 8:17 in the first period, the goal horn and light went off, and the teddy bears rained down from the seating bowl. Suddenly, the Christmas music piped over the sound system, and it was time to celebrate. The stuffed dolls came from the upper and lower decks and flipped over the glass gingerly.
I rushed down to the ice to get a shot of the teddy bears falling to the rink, and they were still raining down onto the rink. Accumulations of stuffed dolls clumped together off the sticks of hockey players. Staff members were pushing 64-gallon garbage bins to retrieve the stuffed animals. Others, like me, walked on the ice to take photo ops of fans, players, employees, and many others having fun during the timeout of the game.
Fuel players jumped in to help throw dolls into the trash bin while K-Wings players hung out and waited through at least a second teddy bear toss scene this season; they had their own on November 26. The Fuel mascot, Nitro, attempted to assist, but he was having more fun waving to the crowd.
A plethora of stuffed dolls were placed on a tarp off the ice and whisked away by 2 or 3 crew members to an area for counting. After around 20 minutes, the teddy bears were ready to count. A few staff members couldn’t resist and jumped into the massive pile as if they were school children jumping into a pile of leaves.
Then, an announcement over the speakers that the goal did not count, much to the chagrin of many in the building. However, it didn’t matter; they saw what they had purchased a ticket to see--the annual teddy bear toss. It was the last event of its kind at the Coliseum. Next year, the Fuel will relocate 14 miles from Fishers, Indiana, to the 8,000-seat Fishers Entertainment Center.
After a meticulous count, there was a total of 5,875 stuffed animals that landed on the ice. It was a bump from last year’s total of 5,395 - but not as much as the Hershey Bears record of 67,309 last season. It is a tradition that began 30 years ago in Kamloops, British Columbia when Blazers fans threw 2,400 bears onto the ice for a game.
The tradition has spread to other parts of the world, from Europe to Australia. It is a mainstay in the ECHL and other leagues in Canada and the United States. The fans enjoy a packed house at the game; the atmosphere is full of holiday spirit, and a teddy bear is donated to several local charities.
There are several teddy bear toss games scheduled at a local hockey area in the minor or junior leagues of North America. Visitors should be on the lookout for their chance to bring in a stuffed doll and toss it onto the ice when appropriate. It is that time of the year again to give back to the community.