What is a hat trick in hockey?

Some of the greatest games in hockey history involve star players scoring hat tricks. What is a hat trick and what's its history in the NHL?

2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five
2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

There are many exciting moments and plays in hockey. A big save could bring fans to their feet. An insane pass can get viewers at home to the edge of their seats. Big hits put a chill into the crowd that gets everyone rowdy. However, there's one main objective in hockey, and it might get a crowd going more than anything in sports: scoring goals.

What's better than one goal? Of course, it's three goals in a single game. In the NHL (and other sports), three goals in a single game is also called a hat trick. There have been more than 7,000 hat tricks in NHL history. That still doesn't stop it from being one of the most anticipated accomplishments for hockey players.

Nobody is surprised that Wayne Gretzky holds the record for most hat tricks in the history of hockey. He's done it a ridiculous 50 times in his career. Mario Lemieux is right behind him with 40 career hat tricks. Alexander Ovechkin is unsurprisingly the active leader in hat tricks with 30, twice as many as any other active player. People in Edmonton, Pittsburgh, and Washington likely stopped throwing their hats on the ice because it became so expensive.

Why do fans throw their hats on the ice for a hat trick?

Speaking of which, how did that tradition start? Why do people throw hats on the ice? It starts with the name. The first known reference to the term "hat trick" came in 1858, more than 10 years before the first organized hockey game. It was a term used in cricket taking three wickets with three consecutive deliveries.

The Hockey Hall of Fame likes to tell a different story. They say back in 1944, Chicago Blackhawks winger named Alex Kaleta didn't have enough money to buy a hat in Toronto, but the store owner allegedly made a deal that if he could score three goals he would give him his desired hat. Apparently, the Toronto business got a lot of publicity from that deal, and they kept offering any player who scored three goals.

Harry Hyland scored the league's first hat trick. That was back in 1917. Hyland's Montreal Wanderers defeated the Toronto Arenas 10–9. (Some team names were pretty wild back then.) The fastest hat trick came in 1952 when Bill Mosienko scored three goals in 21 seconds of game time. That seems almost impossible, but his name is in the NHL record books for a reason.

So, what about the hats? The tradition of fans throwing hats on the ice isn't clear. It's believed that it was started in the junior leagues of Canada, but where and when is nearly impossible to research. All we know is today, dozens of men and women lose their lids when their favorite player score their third goal, and it's one of our favorite hockey traditions.

There's variations of the hat trick, but the most famous one is the Gordie Howe hat trick. That entails a goal, an assist, and a fight. Ironically, Howe himself only has two to his name, but his style of play made the name stick.

Back to the traditional hat trick, it's history is long and impacts everyone. Some players had many hat tricks, but one scored all three of his career goals in one game. Alexei Yegorov scored a hat trick on February 20, 1996. It was his first, second, third, and only goals of his short NHL career. Then, there are players who couldn't get a hat trick. Former Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk had 40 two-goal games in his career, but he could never get that third.

That's a hat trick in the NHL! It's a fun occurance for fans, especially those in attendance. Around 70 happen per season, so if you get to one it's very special!

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