The Origins of Hat Tricks

Hat Tricks Wayne Gretzky

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Fans of sports will undoubtedly have heard the term “hat tricks” used often and regularly. But where and when it originated is tough to nail down with hockey and world football both making a claim. But is there a different sport who can claim invention?

Hat Tricks in Hockey

Most North Americans will associate “hat trick” with hockey; when a player scores three goals in one game.  To celebrate the feat, fans literally throw their hats 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 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.

Hat Tricks in Cricket

With the origins in hockey dating no further than the mid-1940s, surely it can’t be where the term is derived given that football is older, right?  The problem is that we don’t have a definitive origin, 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”.

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.  Where 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.

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