The furries that fall to the ice bring on warm fuzzies.
There’s just no way around it at the Saddledome.
Especially if you’re the one triggering the snowfall of stuffed animals during the Calgary Hitmen’s annual teddy bear toss.
“Call it a magical moment, a special moment …” said Micheal Zipp, one of the junior team’s 22 goal-scorers who have set off the tossing of stuffies to the Dome ice during the charity fundraiser. “If you get a chance to put the puck in the net and see those bears thrown on the ice, it’s pretty special.”
Zipp potted the Hitmen’s first goal two years ago, sending the Saddledome crowd of 17,601 strong into a frenzy and watching on as 23,924 stuffies decorated the ice surface during The Brick Teddy Bear Toss.
“I got the puck back on a faceoff win and walked to the middle and threw it on net, and it went off a skate and fortunately went in,” Zipp said. “And the guys started piling onto me, so I figured I’d scored. I put my head down — I was pretty excited — but I didn’t want to get hit by a bear.”
Last year, it was current Hitmen defenceman Vladislav Yeryomenko making it rain 24,605 bears in the Dome when he scored the club’s first tally.
“To this day, it is still one of my favourite moments in my hockey career,” Yeryomenko said. “And it’s something in my life I will always remember.”
Only one player has scored that festive first goal in two teddy bear tosses — Pavel Padakin back in 2013 and ’14 — while others to light the lamp first in the charity contest include a few NHL stars, Andrew Ladd, in 2003, and Ryan Getzlaf, in 2004.
“Yes, it’s one of those goals I’ll never forget,” Getzlaf said. “It definitely was one of the most fun goals I’ve ever scored and definitely one of my favourite memories with the Hitmen.”
Zipp has his choice picked out to score first in the 24th annual event Sunday against the visiting Kamloops Blazers at the Saddledome (2 p.m., Sportsnet 960 The Fan).
That would be defenceman Layne Toder.
“He might have to be my pick,” Zipp said. “He wears my old number and lives in my old billet house. So he might have a little pressure on him now, I think.”
Especially since Radel Fazleev, the teddy bear toss goal-scorer in 2015, roomed with Zipp in the same billet house while with the Hitmen.
“Must be a lucky house with a couple of those goals in the past two or three years,” Zipp continued. “I was pretty pumped when Radel scored it, and he was pretty happy when I scored it. He was off the team playing in the AHL, and he messaged me on social media right after that and was pretty pumped for me.”
Zipp has since moved on in the hockey world, as well.
He’s now suiting up with the University of Acadia Axemen and playing U Sports puck while working on a kinesiology degree.
But that goal two years ago with the Hitmen still ranks very high among his life’s highlights.
“There’s a lot of hype before the game — a lot of buzz around it,” Zipp said. “There’s lots of fans there and lots of screaming kids — it’s quite the day. You wake up in the morning … you’re having breakfast, and then you’re excited.
“As soon as you get out for warm-up, you start to see all the people funnel in. And then when they announce that Hitmen name and you go flying out there, it’s pretty cool. You see all the kids and even some adults with all their bears.
“Definitely a lot of emotions going through your head. You just want to go out there and play a good game, but you just want to put that puck in the net to see all the bears get thrown on the ice.”
Of course, with the help of their fans, the Hitmen hope to collect 35,000 bears Sunday to be shared by more than 70 local agencies including the Alberta Children’s Hospital and Salvation Army.
“I think people overlook the meaning of throwing the bears on the ice sometimes,” Zipp added. “I didn’t know much of a big deal it was, but when you get to go to the Alberta Children’s Hospital and hand out the bears to little kids, it’s pretty special.”
GUNNING FOR THE RECORD … AGAIN
The Calgary Hitmen want to revisit Dec. 6, 2015 — and then some — for The Brick Teddy Bear Toss on Sunday at the Saddledome.
That’s the year the junior team broke a world record for the toss, when 28,815 stuffies rained down on Dome ice after Jordy Stallard scored the game’s first goal.
But last Sunday, that mark was eclipsed by the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears, as they established a new world record when fans littered the ice with 34,798 stuffed toys in a game against the Binghamton Senators.
With the 24th annual toss Sunday, the Hitmen want to regain that record.
“On behalf of the Calgary Hitmen, we would like to congratulate the Hershey Bears on their world-record teddy bear toss,” said Rob Kerr, the Hitmen assistant manager of business operations. “We know that the nearly 35,000 bears will be welcomed by local charities across central Pennsylvania.
“While one week isn’t a long time to hold a record, we are quite confident that a full building this Sunday will mean that the teddy bear toss world record will return to its rightful owners, the Calgary Hitmen,” Kerr continued. “We have over 70 agencies in the local area that have requested bears this holiday season, and we know Calgarian’s are going to rise to the occasion to help their community.”
Fans are asked to bring a bear or two or even five and throw them onto the ice when the Hitmen score their first goal Sunday against the Kamloops Blazers at the Dome (2 p.m.).
The Hitmen and their fans have collected 347,948 bears to date.
Earlier this week, the Brick announced that for every stuffy collected at The Brick Teddy Bear Toss on Sunday, Dec. 9, they will donate 25 cents to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.
— Postmedia news services
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