Gulls’ Teddy Bear Toss brightens holiday season for children, charities in San Diego region

Gulls forward Brayden Tracey collects an oversize teddy bear that will make some child very happy over the Christmas holiday. Photo by Phillip Brents

The Teddy Bear Toss has become intimately associated with ice hockey, particularly at the minor professional, junior and collegiate levels.

The practice of tossing stuffed animals onto the ice after the home team’s first goal in a game — usually during the Christmas season — began in 1993 when the Kamloops Blazers held the first promotion of its kind during which more than 2,400 stuffed animals were thrown onto the ice following a goal by Brad Lukowich against the Portland Winterhawks.

The tradition quickly spread through the ranks of the Canadian Hockey League. The Calgary Hitmen set a record with 28,815 stuffed animals thrown onto the ice at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Dec. 5, 2016.

The Hitmen broke that record with a toss of 29,935 toys on Dec. 3, 2018.

The annual event has since become a tradition in that western Canadian city as well as across the United States, Australia, Sweden and the UK with more than a million furry friends collected.

The toys are gathered up, usually by players of both teams on the ice, and donated to local hospitals or charities. Players often donate the toys themselves during visits to children’s hospitals.

The American Hockey League Hershey Bears, coincidentally, claim a world record of 52,341 stuffed toys in a single game on Jan. 22, 2022, after the team was unable to host the wildly popular event in either 2020 or 2021 because of the COVID pandemic.

The AHL team, the top developmental affiliate of the NHL Washington Capitals, seems particularly adept at setting records in the teddy bear toss.

The Bears collected 25,017 stuffed animals in a game on Dec. 3, 2017, and surpassed that with 34,798 toys the following December. The numbers kept growing, with 45,650 raining down on the ice in December 2019. Tossing the toys and collecting them delayed the game by 40 minutes. The toys were donated to 40 central Pennsylvania charities.

Gulls’ David Cotton scored the goal that unleashed more than 5,000 plush animals onto the ice as more than 10,000 fans participated in this year’s Teddy Bear Toss Night. Photos by Phillip Brents

The San Diego Gulls held their Teddy Bear Toss Night during Saturday’s AHL game against the Tucson Roadrunners at Pechanga Arena. A sizable crowd of 10,071 — the largest in a month — attended. Fans didn’t have long to wait to begin the ritual of throwing gift-wrapped toys onto the ice when David Cotton scored his second goal of the season on a power play at the 5:34 mark of the first period.

Festivities delayed the game a bit and players had fun posing with the largest items thrown onto the ice.

“It’s special,” Gulls center Justin Kirkland said. “It’s a game you look forward to every single time, because you know that it’s going for a good cause. It was amazing to see the turnout that we had tonight. You know, 10,000 fans from San Diego coming out. So, thank you to them for coming out.

“That was a fantastic boost of energy and motivation for us. We wish we could have got the win for them, but at the end of the day, you know, there’s bigger things in hockey and it’s those kids. So yeah, really, really happy that we’re able to sort of help out with that. It’s a special game for everyone.”

The total haul from last Saturday’s event was 5,735 teddy bears.

The toys will be donated to the following non-profit organizations:

•Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego
•South Bay Community Services
•San Diego Humane Society
•Sierra School of San Diego
•San Diego Foster Parent Association
•SAY San Diego
•Birthline San Diego

Cotton’s goal gave those in attendance something to cheer about after the Roadrunners had taken a quick 3-0 lead in the game en route to building a 6-1 lead later in the period.
The Gulls, the top developmental affiliate of the NHL Anaheim Ducks, eventually lost the game by a score of 9-4 after rallying with three goals in the second period. But the focus during the Teddy Bear Toss Night was about having fun and spreading holiday cheer.

The event was part of the team’s annual Winter Wonderland promotion that also included live reindeer at a pregame tailgate and a third jersey-themed blanket giveaway for the first 7,000 fans in attendance.