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JONES: Oil Kings set new mark in annual Teddy Bear Toss game

Edmonton Oil Kings Ethan McIndoe scored late in the second period to begin the Teddy Bear Toss while playing the Calgary Hitmen during WHL action at Rogers Place in Edmonton, December 7, 2019. Ed Kaiser/Postmedia
Edmonton Oil Kings Ethan McIndoe scored late in the second period to begin the Teddy Bear Toss while playing the Calgary Hitmen during WHL action at Rogers Place in Edmonton, December 7, 2019. Ed Kaiser/Postmedia

The fur flew at 19:09 of the second period.

After an unbearable first 39 minutes, when Ethjan McIdoe scored the first goal of the game for the Edmonton Oil Kings last night, the goal resulted what is a record 16,491 bears in the air.

With 18,105 fans in the stands, it was only the third hockey sellout of the season in Rogers Place — the first two Oilers games of the schedule and Saturday night’s Oil Kings game involving the high- flying bruins.

On this occasion it was most certainly appropriate that the Calgary Hitmen shared the ice with Edmonton’s WHL club. With the combination of the Oil Kings record crowd sellout and record for all those airborne stuffed creatures, it now has to be conceded that Edmonton has totally moved into Calgary’s company as the two greatest Teddy Bear Toss towns, in the league where the holiday tradition was invented.

The tradition began with the Kamloops Blazers in 1993. The Blazers played host to their 26th edition last Saturday but it was Calgary that took Teddy Bear Toss night to incredible new levels.

Sunday with 17,346 in the Saddledome, Carson Focht scored 1:34 into the game and launched 25,025 teddies to the ice, just shy of the 28,818 they let fly to set their record in 2015. It brought the franchise total to 402,608 bears tossed since 1995.

There’s no denying that Alberta’s capital city has become competitive with Calgary when it comes to teddy tossing.

And while it was frustrating for most as the Oil Kings, other than future first-round draft pick Dylan Guenther ringing one off the post in the first period, seemed to be gagging on the occasion not only failing to create scoring chances but having a great deal of difficulty getting out of their own end.

Without a doubt it has become an event that overshadows the accompanying hockey game.

Who won? Who cares?

What was the score? Only that first goal matters.

Oil Kings new media relations director Alyscia Warner took a deep dive into the teddy bears (which is now actually physically possible to do) and the numbers illustrate what has happened here.

The first time the fur flew was in the 2007-08 season. The crowd count was 5,135 and the total number of bears was a mere 942. Since then attendance for the game has been 6,630, 4,760, 5,811, 10,166, 12,575, 10,058, 10,128, 14,066, 15,022, 18,102, 18,102, 18,103 and now 18,105 — a fourth straight sellout for the game.

At the same time the bear count has risen to 1,300, 2,000, 4,922, 7,600, 10,835, 11,492, 12,655, 13,942, 14,122, 14,981 and now 16,491.

The all-time attendance total for the 13 games reached 156,635 with the gathering Saturday, more than the entire regular season for some teams. The total bear count has now soared to 121,410.

And it’s a big deal to be the player to light the lamp and send the fuzzy fellas flying. Brett Breitkreuz, Michael Burns, Lane Werbowski, Mitch Moroz, Edgar Kulda, Dysin Mayo, Andrew Koep, Tyler Robertson, Nick Bowman, Davis Koch, Jalen Luypen and now McIndoe.

“I took the shot,” said Matthew Robertson

“I tipped it,” said 20-year-old Camrose native McIndoe, a left-winger traded to the Oil Kings by the Spokane Chiefs in September.

“Once I saw those bears falling it was a pretty surreal,” said McIndoe.

“I think everybody wanted that goal. It’s good to be the one to get it. It feels good.”

Edmonton’s Teddy Bear Toss history, you should know, was marred by one launchpad catastrophe. In 2010-11 the Oil Kings were shutout 1-0. There is no shame, no humiliation to quite compare a Teddy Bear Toss that doesn’t stop the game and supply the joy (not to mention the photo op) of the moment even if the fans throw the cuddly critters at the end of the game. It’s not the same. And a Teddy Bear Toss night isn’t one where you want to go to a video review but that hasn’t happened here yet.

The hockey happening has been catching on in the OHL.

Last year that league’s total was 72,282 fuzzy friends with the Hamilton Bulldogs the league leaders with 12,550 followed by the Kitchener Rangers with 10,630 and London Knights at 8,763.

Not Calgary-Edmonton numbers, but not bad.

The phenomenon is becoming a thing in the AHL as well. In Hershey, where they must have a two-bear minimum, they claimed the world record with 34,798. The other day the Oilers farm club in Bakersfield sold out at 8,981 and featured 8,380 flying furry fellas.

It’s amazing how the annual Teddy Bear Toss has become as big a part of Christmas in Edmonton, throughout the Western Hockey League, hockey in Canada and to some extent throughout the hockey world as it has become.

It now ranks up there with decorating the tree, elementary school Christmas concerts, visits with Santa at the mall, office parties and going to church on Christmas Eve.

You want to feel like Christmas? Go to a hockey game and put a bear in the air for Santa’s Anonymous.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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