An avalanche of teddy bears are set to rain down upon the ARS.com Rink at Amway Center on Friday night, when the Solar Bears score their first goal of the game against the Florida Everblades.
The annual Teddy Bear Toss has become a minor-league hockey staple over the past two decades, and with the widespread use of video-sharing platforms like YouTube and Facebook in the last decade, the event guarantees that every year countless pairs of eyeballs will view the visually appealing cascade of cuddly critters in hockey rinks throughout North America.
It’s a community event that provides plenty of enjoyment for those participating in the spectacle, and – more importantly – brings a smile to the thousands of children in need who are able to receive a new warm, furry friend for the holidays as a result.
The concept is believed to have originated with the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers during the 1993-94 season, and since then has been replicated by dozens of teams throughout the junior, college and minor league ranks, resulting in thousands of teddy bears and stuffed animals going to children in need during the holiday season. The Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League hold the record for most stuffed animals collected in a single Teddy Bear Toss, with 34,798 collected in Hershey’s 6-3 win over the Binghamton Devils on Dec. 2, 2018.
When the Solar Bears take the ice against Florida on Friday, there’s no telling who could score the goal that will ignite the plush pandemonium in downtown Orlando. Take your pick: it could be Mathieu Foget, who currently leads the active roster with eight goals on the season. Perhaps it will be fellow rookie Dylan Fitze, who scored his first career goal against Florida back on Oct. 27 and scored the game-winner against Atlanta this past Sunday. Or maybe defenseman Michael Brodzinski – who leads the team’s defensive corps with five goals – will be the one to light the lamp.
There are actually two players on the roster who have experience with scoring Teddy Bear Toss goals. Colby McAuley and Alex Schoenborn both played in the Western Hockey League before turning pro: McAuley with the Prince George Cougars and Schoenborn with the Portland Winterhawks.
Schoenborn’s Teddy Bear Toss goal for the Winterhawks came on his 20th birthday, on Dec. 12, 2015. Oddly enough, the game was played against McAuley’s team. McAuley netted his own Teddy Bear Toss goal a week later for Prince George in a Dec. 19, 2015 clash with the Victoria Royals.
“It’s pretty sweet. All the fans come out and pack the place,” McAuley said. “Having the teddy bears fly out onto the ice after you score and to be able to come together as a community is pretty special.”
There are many ways to score a Teddy Bear Toss goal. Schoenborn’s goal for Portland came via a more traditional route, as he beat the goaltender with a wrist shot from the right circle. McAuley scored his on a more indirect path for the Cougars, as he tipped in a shot from his linemate, Shane Collins.
Sometimes when the fur starts to fly, it’s not in the form of your typical teddy bear. In Schoenborn’s case, he wound up with an oversized stuffed cob of corn in his arms.
Yes, you read that right.
“A huge ear of corn came over the glass. It was perfect timing, because I just saw it coming right after I scored,” Schoenborn said. “The fans always made sure to remind me about that moment afterwards.”
As for celebrating a potential Teddy Bear Toss goal, do McAuley or Schoenborn have something cooked up?
“I don’t think I’ve got a celebration in mind, but I’ll probably try to catch the biggest stuffed animal that comes over the glass again,” Schoenborn said.
“Oh yeah,” McAuley smirks. “I’ve got something in the works.”
When pressed for further details, McAuley kept his mouth stitched shut.
“Undisclosed,” was the lone reply.
The Orlando Solar Bears will host their annual Teddy Bear Toss, presented by Jewett Orthopaedic Clinic, when the team hosts the Florida Everblades on Friday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. at the ARS.com Rink at Amway Center.
All fans in attendance are encouraged to bring new teddy bears or stuffed animals to throw onto the ice when Orlando scores its first goal of the game. The teddy bears and stuffed animals will then be collected and donated to children in need throughout Central Florida during the holiday season.
The Solar Bears will also wear specialty Ugly Holiday Sweater jerseys, which will be auctioned off following the game. Fans in attendance are also encouraged to wear their own ugly holiday sweaters to compete in an ugly holiday sweater contest throughout the game.