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What is a Hat Trick in Hockey? (Gretzky Record)

hat trick nhl

While watching a hockey game, you’ll often the players and fans celebrating an exploit.

If it’s the home team, any goal scored is a cause for celebration. The fans are more into it when their team is up or just tied the game. 

Sometimes it’s to honor a special guest in the audience or a player milestone. 

Other times it’s because of a 1-on-1 tilt or on-ice scrap. 

If the two goalies are fighting, the crowd will go ballistic. 

But are certain time the fans honor an in-game achievement where they throw their hats on the ice.

There’s only one accomplishment that merits this gesture, known commonly as a hat trick.

What is a Hat Trick in Hockey?

A hat trick is the result of a hockey player scoring 3 goals in a game. If you are watching or attending the game, you’ll likely witness audience members tossing their hats onto the ice. The three goals can be scored any time during regulation, overtime or off a penalty shot.

Meanwhile, goals scored during the shootout cannot contribute to a hat trick. 

Hats will most likely be tossed at a home game rather than on the road, especially if the rivalry is extremely tense.

Unless, of course, you have gutsy opposing fans attending or the accomplishment is historic.

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Why is it Called a Hat Trick?

Prior to the hat-tossing tradition for the hat tricks of today, players were actually awarded with a free hat for completing the feat.

The Hockey Hall of Fame officially recognizes businessman, Sammy Taft, as the pioneer for offering a free hat in exchange for players scoring three goals in a game. 

The first player to be awarded a hat was Alex Kaleta of the Chicago Black Hawks (in 1946).

It should be noted that some newspapers were using the term “hat trick” to describe players scoring three goals as early as the 1930s and 1940s. 

Furthermore, a Montreal-based store called Henri Henri also rewarded players with hats between the years of 1950-1970. 

Players who scored a hat trick during a game in the Montreal Forum were treated to the free hat, regardless of the team they played for (source). 

Hat Trick Origins

In fact, the term “hat trick” originates from the sport of Cricket dating back to 1858. 

It was first attributed to the bowler, H.H. Stephenson, playing for all-England team.  

Stephenson managed to hit the stakes behind the batter three straight times.

Confused to what this means? So were we when writing this article, and hence included a video demonstrating a cricket hat trick:

Following the match, the stakes were collected and used to purchase a hat for Stephenson for his achievement (source).

Congrats again to H.H. Stephenson – but let’s turn back our attention to hockey! We continue by exploring variations of the hat trick just below. 

Hat Trick Variations

In hockey, there are two additional hat tricks that are commonly recognized. 

One is the purest of forms in which the three goals were scored, while the other is attributed to a particular player and his style of play. 

Natural Hat Trick

A natural hat trick is the result of a player scoring three consecutive goals in a game. 

In fact, they can be the only player to score three consecutive goals between both teams. 

The quickest natural hat trick to date was scored in just 21 seconds by Bill Mosienko of the Chicago Blackhawks, back in 1952.

Gordie Howe Hat Trick

There is also another known hockey hat trick, attributed to a certain player’s playing style and known as the Gordie Howe Hat Trick.

The Gordie Howe hat trick is the result of a player scoring a goal, assisting on another goal and getting into a fight in a game.

To date, Rick Tocchet achieved the most Gordie Howe hat tricks with 18. Howe, himself, accomplished the feat twice over his career.

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Change to Minor Penalties Because of the Hat Trick

During a game in the 1956-57 season, the Montreal Canadiens Jean Beliveau managed to score a hat trick on the same power play.  

The powerplay was a result of a 2-minute minor infraction, in which it took Beliveau to score three goals in 44 seconds.

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Since then, teams on the penalty kill were allowed to return to even strength after a power play goal against for minor penalties. 

If you an explanation as to what is a Power Play, make sure to check out our blog post here.

List of NHL players with the most hat tricks

In case you were wondering, Wayne Gretzky owns the greatest number of hat tricks over the span of any player’s career with 50.

Below, we’ve included a list of the top 10 NHL players with the most hat tricks. 

Player NameHat Tricks (or more) Count
1Wayne Gretzky50
2Mario Lemieux40
3Mike Bossy39
4Brett Hull33
5Phil Esposito32
6Alex Ovechkin30
7Marcel Dionne28
8Bobby Hull28
9Maurice Richard26
10Cy Denneny25

You can check out the following link to see the full list.

The only active player currently on this list is Alex Ovechkin, with 30 hat tricks. 

As such, we’ve included a video of him accomplishing the feat over the course of one of these games. 

In fact, this was an Ovechkin natural hat trick against the Los Angeles Kings.

Final Thoughts

Whenever a player scores a hat trick, they feel a sense of accomplishment. 

While it’s possible your team still loses the game, it’s unlikely the multi-goal scorer would be held accountable by their teammates.

Three goals in a game are very hard to come by, let alone a natural hat trick

Usually, it’s an indication that the player is heavily involved in the game and is in the zone.

While your best players can do this multiple times in a year, some guys consider it the game of their lives. 

This is similar to when Buster Douglas beat the undefeated Mike Tyson in their heavyweight boxing match.

All the stars were aligned that day for Douglas. As for hockey, it's as if every time the player touches the puck, it turns to gold.