Even if you’re not a hockey fan, you likely know what it takes for a player to accomplish a hat trick in the sport. One of the most famous phrases in sports has been adopted in other sports besides hockey. But you probably don’t know the history behind the term and how it came to be. Let’s look at the backstory behind hockey’s hat trick and Gordie Howe’s variation of the accomplishment.
The history of hockey’s hat trick
NHL.com tells us the term “hat trick” dates back to the sport of cricket. In 1858, a bowler took three consecutive wickets. Money was collected to buy a hat to honor his accomplishment. Some newspapers used the term as early as the ’30s and ’40s to describe a hockey player scoring three times in a game.
But the Hockey Hall of Fame says the term began in hockey when Toronto man Sammy Taft promoted his business by offering a hat to a player who scored three goals in an NHL game played in Toronto. This offer launched in 1946 when Blackhawks player Alex Kaleta liked a hat in Taft’s shop but didn’t have the money for it.
The store’s proprietor offered to give Kaleta the hat for free if he scored three goals against the Maple Leafs that night. Kaleta scored four times in the game, and the next day he received the hat as the media brought attention to “Alex Kaleta’s hat trick.”
In modern hockey, when a player scores a hat trick fans throw their hats onto the ice to celebrate the feat. Unsurprisingly, reports Hockey Reference, the NHL’s all-time leader in hat tricks is Wayne Gretzky. “The Great One’ achieved the feat 50 times; Mario Lemieux finished his career just one behind him with 49.
What is the “Gordie Howe hat trick?”
Gordie Howe is one of the best players in NHL history. There is a different type of hat trick named for him. The “Gordie Howe hat trick” requires a player to score just one goal, according to NHL.com, which isn’t hard. In the same game, an assist and a fight must accompany the goal in order to qualify as the specialty hat trick.
Why the fight? Howe got into scuffles regularly, with 22 fights during his NHL career. Despite that, he had just two of his self-named hat tricks in more than 2,400 games. No one kept track of the leaders in the unofficial statistic until the Hockey News in 1996.
Since then, Brendan Shanahan is the leader in that category. According to the publication’s records, he had 17 Gordie Howe hat tricks in his career. He says he hadn’t heard of the Howe hat trick until he “had quite a few of them.” If you include the postseason, Rick Tocchet’s 18 is the high-water mark.
Other NHL hat trick records
Here are some other noteworthy hat tricks in the NHL.
The first hat trick
Kaleta’s hat trick led to the NHL adopting the term. But it wasn’t the first time the feat was achieved in the league. The honor of the NHL’s first hat trick goes to Harry Hyland. He scored the three goals for the Montreal Wanderers on Dec. 19, 1917, and was awarded the hat trick retrospectively.
The fastest hat trick
The fastest hat trick in NHL history came on March 23, 1952, reports NHL.com. On that night, the Rangers hosted the Blackhawks at Madison Square Garden. The visitors came away from a come-from-behind 7-6 victory. But the most notable part was Blackhawks captain Bill “Wee Willie” Mosienko’s performance.
He scored his first goal of the game at 6:09 in the third period. Mosienko’s second score came at the 6:20 mark; his third and final tally of the game came at 6:30 in the final period. This means he accomplished his hat trick in 21 seconds — the fastest in league history. The record still stands more than 68 years later.