Hockey mystery: What happens to hats thrown for hat tricks?

There have been 69 hat tricks in the NHL this season, from the three goals scored by Fabian Brunnstrom of the Dallas Stars back on Oct. 15, 2008 to the trio of tallies for Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Therefore, there were also hundreds of fans who left hockey arenas without the head gear they walked in wearing.

One of hockey's greatest traditions, the tossing of hats on the ice when a player scores thrice evolved from local businessmen handing out fedoras to players about 90 years ago. During the 1970s, fans built on that tradition by tossing hats on the ice, and the NHL eventually amended its rule book to say that "articles thrown onto the ice following a special occasion (i.e. hat trick) will not result in a bench minor penalty being assessed" to the home team for delay of the game.

For years, fans have seen arena workers -- and more frequently, and thankfully, Ice Girls -- shoveling dozens of hats into large plastic bins to be removed from the ice.

Which got us thinking: Where do all of these hat-trick hats eventually end up?

We asked a few team executives around the NHL what their franchises do with the hats tossed on the ice, and discovered four primary destinations for the projectile headgear.

1. The Players Keep Them: In many cities, the hats are collected by team staff and presented to the player who scored the hat trick in the dressing room. "If the player who achieved the hat trick wants them, they're his," said Jason Rademan, media relations for the Dallas Stars.

Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals had four hat tricks this season, including one in a Stanley Cup Playoffs classic that also saw rival Sidney Crosby tally one. He's one of the players who checks the hats before they're shipped away.

"Ovie has asked before where the hats were, and he's grabbed a hat or two," said Nate Ewell of the Capitals. "He even grabbed a red Caps hat at one point."

2. The Garbage: Remember what mom used to say about wearing other kids' hats back in elementary school? Turns out that health concerns about the indiscriminate origin of the hats is a consideration.

Mike Sundheim, media relations for the Carolina Hurricanes, said that a portion of the hats that are in decent shape are given to the players, but that "the majority of the older, well-worn ones pretty much have to go in the trash because of health concerns."

That was echoed by VP of communications Tom McMillan of the Pittsburgh Penguins, although he said a student once did a project with the Penguins in which he took hats thrown on the ice, had them "cleaned and medically approved" and then donated them to charity. Which brings us to ...

3. Donations: Teams that don't trash the hats give them to any number of local charities. Some teams are a bit more discerning; like the Carolina Hurricanes, who only "donate any new-looking ones, i.e. tags are still on, to charity," said Sundheim.

If for some reason you thought the homeless population in your city had embraced hockey, now you know the real story.

Finally, the most exciting trend in the NHL when it comes to hat tricks ...

The Giant Transparent Hat Bin: The Columbus Blue Jackets have a giant case on the main concourse of their arena that houses all the hats the team has collected since the franchise's first hat trick, according to Karen Davis of the Jackets. That means every trick from Geoff Sanderson in Feb. 2001 through Rick Nash in March 2009.

McMillan of the Penguins said that his organization has donated hats in the past to the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, which houses a similar bin.

The trend is catching on: The Washington Capitals have been saving hats for over a year now, planning their own transparent bin on the concourse of the Verizon Center in DC.

"So people can see their hats, and encourage fans to throw more for the next hat trick," said Ewell.

Provided, of course, that Ovechkin doesn't dive in and snag a few for himself.

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