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Teddy Bear Toss Continues to Shatter Records in Hershey

#AHL | Everyone loves a teddy bear toss game, but few teams can bring the cuteness the way @TheHersheyBears can. Can they break more records in 2023? @FPHBears breaks down the history of the game and who can send the teddys flying

Sweet, cuddly mayhem returns to Hershey this Sunday. Photo by Carl Minieri/Field Pass Hockey.

Teddy Bear Toss Continues to Shatter Records in Hershey

HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears are the plush kings of the hockey world, and their annual Teddy Bear Toss tradition has shifted over the years to be the best for last in the American Hockey League. The “sweet, cuddly mayhem” as famously described by the voice of the Bears, Zack Fisch, has grown slowly and steadily to become must-see viewing for hockey fans just to see if Bears fans can dethrone themselves from the title over the last few years.

After missing out on the event in 2020 and an impressive drive-through version of the event in 2021 (given the circumstances), the proper event returned in magnificent form in 2022 as fans in the Sweetest Place on Earth outdid themselves with 52,341 stuffed toys donated to charity.

Now, with the event highlighting Hershey’s next home game on January 29 against the Bridgeport Islanders, the question on everyone’s mind is the same: how can Bears faithful top themselves this time? The answer will be revealed, bear-by-bear, on Sunday afternoon.

It’s already off to a good start, as tickets are scarce and being traded on the secondhand market at multiple times the face value and what single seats remain are nearly able to be counted with two hands. Tickets for the event have been scarce essentially since sales opened up to season ticket holders back in August, making the value of a season ticket package even sweeter for dedicated fans of the team.

It’s reasonable to suspect that the event will one day surpass the largest crowd in Giant Center history, set back when the Bears hoisted the Calder Cup at home on June 14, 2010 in their Game 6 win over the Texas Stars; it was the first time the Bears had won the Calder Cup at home since the 1980s. This event has that kind of draw that could one day shatter that record if it doesn’t do so on Sunday.

The other question that’s always fun to speculate on before the game is who will score the goal that sends the fur flying? Every season, the goal that triggers the teddy toss is different than the last. The atmosphere leading up to the goal is always one of heavy anticipation of the moment, with every shot on goal drawing extra oohs and ahs than a typical crowd of the same size. That’s some of the magic of the event, whether it’s Riley Barber’s goal in 2018 that came on a power play off a rebound in the slot or Christian Djoos flying in on a rebound in 2019. Last season, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby blew the roof off with a wrist shot on the power play after a healthy dose of passing and movement; a truly satisfying goal. Every player thinks about scoring the goal and joining the list of players to accomplish it, as their name will be associated with the latest record-shattering event seen around the world.

Bears Vice President of Hockey Operations Bryan Helmer is one of the exceptional few to have experienced the Teddy Bear Toss from many perspectives, having participated the event as a player, an assistant coach, and now in his current role as the team’s top executives. The angle on it might change depending on the role, but the good that it does in the name of charity makes the event special.

“It’s one of my most stressful games in my role,” Helmer said. “You want to make sure we score a goal quickly, it’s pretty neat to see it and feel it and it gives me goosebumps. You want to be the player who scores the goal, but as a coach you want to score it to get the delay over with. To see it as the Vice President of Hockey Operations and to see the entire process behind the scenes, to see the teddy bears counted and get to local charities. The perspectives I’ve seen over the years in my roles are pretty neat and I always look forward to it.”

The Bears, remarkably, have always been able to get a teddy count in by the end of the game, which is remarkable given the hefty totals the team achieves. Once the plush items are counted, the teddy bears are distributed to over 25 charities as part of the Hershey Bears Cares Initiative, including Dauphin County Children and Youth, Vista School, Cocoa Packs, Boys & Girls Club of Harrisburg, Palmyra Lions Club, Falcon Packs and Autism Society Greater Harrisburg Area.

Another aspect of the event is the charitable donation made by the Sweigart Family Foundation, who donates $1 for each plush item thrown benefitting the Children’s Miracle Network. The event has been spotlighted around the world, with news outlets in places like Hawaii and as far as Japan picking up footage of the event to show on the news.

The event comes at a good time for the Bears, who have been on the road for two weeks since they last played a game before their home crowd at Giant Center. Home ice advantage has been huge for the team this season, as the Chocolate and White have performed at their best in their building with a record of 16-4-2-1 for a league-best 35 points.

Hershey has plenty of players to suspect to score the big goal this year, including sensational rookie scorer Ethen Frank or top point producers Mike Vecchione or Mike Sgarbossa. All three players have or will represent the Bears as All-Stars, with Sgarbossa taking the honors the last time the event was held (although he was unable to participate) while Frank and Vecchione are set to take the honors this season. Joe Snively is a great pick to be the goal scorer, as he extended his point scoring streak at Giant Center to 17 games the last time the Bears were at home and has four points (three goals, one assist) in five games since he returned from Washington. Hershey has another pair of strong young scorers in Connor McMichael (15 points in 25 games) and Hendrix Lapierre (22 points in 39 games) that would be strong candidates to get the goal.

More often than not, the scorer tends to defy convention as the goal scorer has traditionally been hard to predict. Preceding Jonsson-Fjallby (2022), Djoos (2019), and Barber (2018), the previous scorers were Liam O’Brien (2017), Garrett Mitchell (2016), Erik Burgdoerfer (2015), and Steve Oleksy (2014).

Teddy Bear Toss games are among the most interesting specialty games of the season. It ends up giving a brighter spotlight on the AHL as the National Hockey League has yet to adopt the event citing fan safety as its primary reason. Hershey and its fans have managed to top themselves every year essentially since adopting the event in the early days of Giant Center, and it would not be surprising to see the Bears and their fans once again outdo themselves in the event.

The Bears usurped the plush throne from the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen in 2018 when they collected 34,798, and now the organization looks to up the record once again. Can they break their record of 52,341? Tune in on Sunday afternoon at 3:00 PM EST via AHL TV or locally via FOX 43’s Antenna TV channel. And if you’re going to the event itself, bring bags and as many teddy bears as you can!

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