The Origins of “Hat Tricks”

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Updated: June 25, 2013
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Welcome back to Peculiar Side of Sports.  Every so often something in sports perplexes me, and I just hate not knowing something.  So, I do what any normal, sane sports fan does – I search ad nauseam for the answer by any means necessary.  The good news is that I take all my hard work and relay the results to you.  If you are a fan of Sports History, check out the other articles I have written – “Sports History” covering virtually all major sports.

Fans of sports will undoubtedly have heard “hat trick” used often and regularly . The interesting question is where and when did it originate?  Might it be in North American hockey, or perhaps long ago in world football?  The short answer is “neither”, but not so fast.  Before I reveal what sport the roots of the term are actually derived from, let’s first take a look at what I feel are the two most recognizable sports which fans of LWOS will be more familiar – ice hockey and world football (soccer).

Rory Harbaugh cardMost North Americans will associate “hat-trick” with ice hockey; when a player scores three goals in one game.  To celebrate the feat, fans literally throw their hats off their heads onto the ice to commemorate the accomplishment.  However, where and when the term was first used is open for debate.  There are three plausible answers that come to the fore as most likely.

In the first scenario, a Toronto men’s store owner promised a free hat to any Maple Leafs player who achieved three or more goals in a game.  The legend dates to the mid-late 1940’s.  I suppose that makes sense.  The other theory, which is the one that the Hockey Hall of Fame has adopted as the true origins, also stems from Toronto.  Alex Kaleta of the Chicago Blackhawks approached shop owner Sammy Taft about buying a hat from his store. Without money to make the purchase, the cheeky Taft told him he would give him the hat if he could muster three goals against the Leafs that night in January, 1946.  Kaleta scored four times.  The third theory but it quite literally involves mad hatters.  In Guelph, Ontario, there was a team called the Biltmore Mad-Hatters, named after the local hat-making company Biltmore.  Some claim the club gave away free fedoras to any of its players who scored three goals.  The team happened to be a farm team of the New York Rangers.

From my research, what I will say is that the term is most widely used in hockey, even if it isn’t where the term originated.

With the origins in hockey dating no further than the mid-1940s, surely it can’t be where the term is derived given that world football is older, right?  The problem is that we don’t have a definitive origin, or even several exact possibilities, so the answer is “maybe”.  What we do know is in many countries where world football is popular, there is another popular sport that is indeed credited with the origins, hence the overlapping use and undetermined first use of “hat trick” regarding scoring three goals in one match.

The undisputed true origins of the term “hat trick” comes from the wildly popular sport, cricket.  Interestingly, the use of the term is different than in other sports in that it is awarded for defensive play, rather than offensive.  In cricket, an individual bowler earns a hat trick when he or she strikes out three batsmen with consecutive deliveries.

So when was the term first used?  We have one reference in a book called, “James Lillywhite’s Cricketers’ Annual“, published in 1877, that, “Having on one occasion taken six wickets in seven balls, thus performing the hat-trick successfully”.  Just a decade before, however, the term was used to describe a magician who literally performed a trick using his hat as a prop – hence, “hat trick”.

There are conflicting ideas as to why the term was adopted.  The first theory states that a bowler who achieved the aforementioned feat would earn himself a new hat.  The problem is that why does the word “trick” enter?  So for many, the term was adopted to mean a special feat that is rare and unexplainable, akin to a magician’s hat trick.

The term began in cricket, likely extended soon after to football and rugby (a player scoring three tries in a game), then to North America where it was used in hockey and lacrosse.  Whereas it is a relatively rare event in cricket, and somewhat so in football, it is more often achieved in hockey, hence many associate the term with that game in particular.

Thanks for reading!  Have an interesting question you want answered?  Feel free to leave comments below.  Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter – @RoryHarbaugh, as well as the site – @lastwordonsport.

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photo credit: sarahbest via photopin cc

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