For now, the bear toss title belongs to Hershey, Pennsylvania.
But make no mistake. Calgary wants it back.
Almost 35,000 stuffed animals rained down Sunday at the Giant Center, home of the AHL’s Hershey Bears, as the team held its annual Teddy Bear Toss night.
The Teddy Bear Toss takes place every year across minor professional and junior hockey arenas, as fans are invited to bring stuffed toys to the game and hurl them over the boards when the home team scores its first goal. Those teddy bears and other assorted stuffed animals are then donated to children in need, in time for the holidays.
For the past three years, the Calgary Hitmen held the world record, set Dec. 6, 2015, when 28,815 toys flew to the ice at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
But they know they’ll need to up their game if they’re going to reach the high bar set by Hershey this past weekend.
The Hitmen host this year’s Teddy Bear Toss game on Sunday afternoon.
“It goes without saying that the Calgary Hitmen Teddy Bear Toss is the pre-eminent Teddy Bear Toss. We’re excited about it because there is a need for us to top their number. We’d be happy to put those bears into the community where they could be used,” said Rob Kerr, assistant manager of business operations for the Hitmen.
“It’s great that Hershey set it and it’s a great title. We’re very confident that we’re going to be able to beat it.”
On Monday in Hershey, more than 30 local organizations — set to distribute the bears to kids in the community — were on their way to the rink to pick up their share of the haul.
The team had been pushing to break the Hitmen’s record for two years, according to team spokesperson Zack Fisch.
“We knew of the Calgary Hitmen and we knew what they had done. We had 25,000 last year and we went ‘alright, we’re only 3,000 off.’ We kind of just wanted to beat what the Hitmen had,” Fisch said.
“There’s no better namesake than the Hershey Bears as far as doing this event in minor league sports. It is only fitting when your name is the Bears to be the Teddy Bear Toss world record holders.”
They ended up collecting 34,798 total stuffed animals. And unlike the Saddledome, which can fit more than 19,000 fans in their seats, the Bears had about half the attendance.
“We don’t have the luxury of playing in the Saddledome like the Hitmen do for that game. Our building only holds 10,500 and we had over 10,000 there (Sunday),” Fisch said.
“We know the Hitmen have their game this weekend and ball’s in their court. Obviously it’s a bigger building and if they do hit it, awesome. We’ll be proud to be the world record holder for a week. It will just have to make us raise our bar even more for a great event next year.”
Since the Hitmen started hosting their annual teddy bear toss in 1995, almost 350,000 bears have been collected in total. More than 70 agencies will benefit from the toss this year.
“It’s such a notable game for the Hitmen,” Kerr said. “It’s one of those rare occasions that you know, that night you’re going to turn on CNN and they’re going to be showing video from Calgary, Alberta, Canada watching these teddy bears come flying down.”
More than 17,000 tickets for Sunday’s game, which starts at 2 p.m., have already been sold. The Hitmen are hoping to sell a couple thousand more to fill the building to capacity.
And the team has a message for the new world record holder.
“Congratulations to Hershey. Any time that you can do something for your community that’s going to benefit so many, regardless of if it’s a world record or not, that’s incredible,” Kerr said.
“I truly hope that they enjoy their one week with the title.”
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