The 2023 NHL playoffs just wrapped up, with the Las Vegas Golden Knights claimingLord Stanley’s coveted cup against the Florida Panthers in a 9-3 victory in game five. Winning the cup requires scoring goals, of course, and some players are so on fire that they score three goals in a single game (as Mark Stone did last night).
This phenomenal feat is known as a hat trick, a term used in a handful of sports to indicate three individual achievements in a given match-up. But where did the phrase come from, and what does scoring three goals in a game have to do with hats?
The Sport That Started It All (And It Wasn’t Hockey)
The origins of the phrase don’t have anything to do with hockey at all. In fact, the first use of the term hat trick comes from a specific cricket match from 1858. Bowler H.H. Stephenson, playing for an all-England squad versus a team from Hallam, South Yorkshire, took three consecutive wickets at Hyde Park Cricket Grounds in Sheffield—meaning he hit the three wooden stakes behind the batter three consecutive times. A collection was held because of his outstanding feat and he was presented with a hat that was bought using the proceeds.
Just when the phrase made the jump to ice hockey and other sports is a matter of debate: The Oxford English Dictionary pegs the date to the 1890s, while Online Etymology Dictionary has circa 1909; still other sources believe it didn’t happen until the 1930s or ’40s.
Claims to the Popularization of the Phrase
The exact source that popularized the phrase is also fairly hazy. One Montreal haberdasher called Henri Henri claims they “brought the ... expression into the world of hockey” after they gave all players who scored three goals during one game at the Montreal Forum a hat on the house.
Another claim comes from the Canadian city of Guelph, whose 1947 Junior-A team was sponsored by Biltmore Hats and dubbed the “Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters.” As a marketing ploy to advertise its new style of fedora, the company would give away a brand new hat to any league player who scored three goals in a single game.
The Story According to the Hockey Hall of Fame
The Hockey Hall of Fame officially recognizes a different story as the true origin of the phrase hat trick when it comes to hockey.
When Chicago Blackhawks winger Alex Kaleta visited Sammy Taft’s Toronto haberdashery in January 1946 before a game with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he fell in love with a fedora. But Kaleta—who had just returned to playing professional hockey after serving in the Canadian military during World War II—didn’t have enough money to buy the hat. So Taft cut him a deal: If Kaleta could score three goals against the Maple Leafs at the game that night, he’d give him the hat for free.
“There was no rhyme or reason to it,” Taft recalled in 1992. “I just, for some reason, said, ‘You go out there and score three goals tonight and I’ll give you the hat.’”
Kaleta went on to score four goals in the game (Chicago wound up losing to Toronto 6-5) and got a free hat out of his on-ice feat. Newspapers picked up the story, which took off. According to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Taft then “promoted his hats by giving one to any player who scored three goals during a National Hockey League game in Toronto,” and the rest is hockey history.
A version of this story ran in 2014; it has been updated for 2023.
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