The history of the NHL hat trick

It's a phrase we all know as hockey fans... but how many know of its origin? You're about to find out.

The history of the NHL hat trick
Toronto Maples centre Gus Bodnar being fitted being fitted by Sammy Taft - 1940's. (Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4382)

The hat trick

It is extremely difficult to score goals in the NHL. Ask any player (except maybe Gretzky, Lemieux or Hull perhaps). But to score three goals in the same game is magic. A couple of times a year, it happens.

For Alexander Ovechkin it happened in back to back opening games of last season. There are Gordie Howe hat tricks (a goal, an assist, and a fight), Gretzky hat tricks (50 hat tricks in his career), and Lemieux hat tricks (scoring five different ways in a game), but there is only one original hat trick. Three goals by any player in the same game.

There are other variations of the hat trick. 

natural hat trick happens when a player scores three consecutive goals, uninterrupted by any other player scoring for either team.

The NHL record for the fastest natural hat trick is 21 seconds, set by Bill Mosienko in 1952 for the Chicago Blackhawks.

If you’re the home team, and your player scores one, off goes your hat and onto the ice; even if it’s your favorite. One guy told me he threw his favorite Jets' hat at a game where Patrik Laine scored his first hat trick, the guy next to him bought him a beer. That’s hockey for you. Tradition is what makes hockey so great. It is what ties the past to the future.

SO where did it begin?

Who started it anyway?

The Hockey Hall of Fame recognizes Sammy Taft, as the originator of the hat trick. In the 1940s, the early days of the Great Depression, Sammy Taft was barely out of his teens. He was a colorful man who loved to gab. People said he had an oversized personality. Taft grew up on Spadina Avenue and was working in a tie shop when I man came in one day and asked “why don’t you sell hats?”

Taft told the Toronto Star, "I was desperate, I could sell anything, but didn’t have any money.”

The man gave Taft an opportunity of a lifetime; Taft would run his hat shop, entrusting he would either “have hats in the store, or his money’d be in the bank.”

When the man returned a month later to check on Taft, he’d sold all but two hats. Taft sold 10,000 hats annually and gained popularity quickly, becoming known as the World Famous Hatter.”

“He would mold the unformed hatness to fit essential you. You came in looking like a short, elderly golfer and leave looking like Cab Calloway.”

On January 26, 1946, Alex Kaleta, who played for the Chicago BlackHawks stopped in Taft’s hat shop, eyeing one particular fedora. Kaleta didn’t have enough to buy the hat, but Taft offered him a deal. He told young forward if he went out and scored three goals in the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the fedora was his.

Kaleta did one better, scoring all but one of the goals. While listening to the game, Taft heard a reporter call the goals the “hat trick” and it stuck.

From that moment on, every player scoring three goals in one game at Maple Leaf Gardens received a hat courtesy the World Famous Hatter. Taft stopped giving out hats for hat tricks in the mid-1950's, but he forever preserved a tradition for hockey fans to come.

Additional material from the January 3, 1994 and January 27, 1994 editions of the Globe and Mail, the March 21, 2009 edition of the Guelph Mercury, and the December 6, 1981, October 31, 1984, June 3, 1990, and January 3, 1994 editions of the Toronto Star.