Monday, 11 December 2017

The Art of the Teddy Bear Toss

It's hard not to get the warm and fuzzies this time of year if you're a hockey fan - literally.

Each year, fans circle "Teddy Bear Toss" dates on their calendars, in anticipation of one of the greatest spectacles in sports.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in Calgary, where the Hitmen garner all kinds of social media attention when the fur flies.

This year's game happened this past weekend against the Moose Jaw Warriors. Personally, it marked my fifth Teddy Bear Toss with the Hitmen and I won't lie, this city never ceases to amaze me. Even in tough economic times, thousands of bears hit the ice for children's charities.

What many people don't realize is that there is an art form to how things are done here in Calgary. Over the years, the process has been tweaked and adjusted to a point of perfection in terms of the execution. We have protocols in place for all sorts of situations and "worst-case scenarios." It really is a well-oiled machine.

We go through each of the scenarios in a pre-game meeting. How late does the goal have to be scored for us to go into an intermission? Should we do a dry-scrape of the ice after the bears are cleared off or should it be a full flood? What needs to be done in the time it takes to clear the ice? A lot of questions are answered in that pre-game meeting, even though the details have been worked out weeks in advance.

Then it's game time. We have to treat it like every other game, with promotions, PA announcements and music. The only problem is that it's not. In Calgary, while we typically bring in between 5,000-10,000 fans, the attendance for Sunday's game was 18,035. So we had to turn up the volume. One of the first whistle breaks where the ensuing faceoff in the offensive zone meant an early edition of the "Booster Juice Boost of the Game" (which is usually saved for the third period). We wanted to bring the noise and give the home team an added jolt.

We then headed over to the top of sections 106-107 to prepare for a promotion planned for the first TV timeout (which always happens following the first whistle after the ten minute mark of the period). We'll get "bumped" if there's a powerplay (no TV timeouts during powerplays), so we knew we'd be waiting a little bit after Chase Hartje took a goaltender interference penalty at 8:13. In the dying moments of that man advantage, Vladislav Yeryomenko hit paydirt and the teddy bears started raining down from the stands.

Luckily for the promotions crew, we were under cover where we were. But that meant we had to abandon the promotion and head into the Teddy Bear protocol. While the stuffies are being tossed, the players take part in photo ops and have some fun, the volunteers start cleaning up, interviews are done with the players and the sponsors, and we have the added bonus of the annual Hitmen Christmas video.

A few other items are read or played on the Energy Board, and everyone works their tail off to get the game back going. The goal is a half-hour to get the players back on the ice.

You gotta hand it to the people that make these games happen, particularly the volunteers. Not only are they rushing around to clean up all the bears, but then they remain in the bowels of the 'Dome during the game to sort through the toys to make sure they're all good to be in the hands of youngsters. They are the unsung heroes of the day, as they load the bears onto trucks to be delivered the following day to youngsters looking for a pick-me-up this holiday season.

No matter the city or team, the Teddy Bear Toss truly is a spectacle. Not only in watching it, but also in what is done before and after the fur flies. It's hard not to have a smile on your face, in the true spirit of the season, heading into Christmas.

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