Once again, Southern Alberta hockey fans outdid themselves during the Calgary Hitmen's annual Teddy Bear Toss game.
Playing at the Scotiabank Saddledome gives the Hitmen a big-arena advantage, which they have used to their full advantage since the birth of the Teddy Bear Toss custom in the 1990s. The origin story is unclear, with some attributing the invention to fans of either the Kamloops Blazers or Portland Winterhawks. The Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers have also held one for 19 seasons, the same span as Calgary.
It's pretty straightforward: fans throw stuffed animals on the ice after the home team's first goal of the game, which the team then collects and distributes to various charities. On Sunday, the crowd of 17,199 in Calgary, many of whom brought multiple stuffed toys, had to hold on through a scoreless opening period. At the 3:42 mark of the second, forward Pavel Padakin did the honours for the second year in a row. That is an unofficial Western Hockey League record.
If you watch closely, Padakin did a snow angel as the stuffed toys rained down. Livin' the dream.
More than 50 charities in the Calgary area have partnered in this year's 19th annual toss, with the official count coming in at 25,921. That would top 2012's count, which was in the 25,000 range.
Here is another angle:
The charitable effort is an annual rite across the Canadian Hockey League in November and December. Calgary's archrival, the Edmonton Oil Kings, also hold a big one (complete with tips on how it's done). At least two major junior teams, the Belleville Bulls and Kootenay Ice, ask fans to throw winter gloves and hats, which are given to those in need.
The removal is well-organized, with players often pitching in to pile up the bears. Witness the effort after the Erie Otters' Teddy Bear goal on Saturday.
In Calgary, Hitmen players also visit the Alberta Children's Hospital on the day following the game to hand bears to ailing and sick youth. There are typically few unmoved souls on the day that happens. Some bears are also donated to animal shelters to be used as chew toys.
Padakin, a 19-year-old right wing from Kiev, Ukraine, is in his second season with Calgary. Hitmen play-by-play announcer Brad Curle said that Padakin watched his 2012 Teddy Bear goal every night for two weeks in a row last season. No one would fault Padakin for doing so again.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.