EVERETT — I had to see it for myself.
Saturday night I took a quick break from covering the Seattle Seahawks to make a trip to Xfinity Arena and take in the Everett Silvertips’ game against the Vancouver Giants. And while I always enjoy returning to my old beat, I came for one purpose, and one purpose only:
I wanted to find out if the Tips’ teddy bear curse was finally over.
Gather round, everyone, as I spin a holiday tale.
Teddy bear tosses are a staple of junior hockey during the holiday season. Here’s how they work. Fans bring teddy bears to the game, and when the home team scores its first goal the fans toss those teddy bears onto the ice. The bears are collected by the team and distributed to local charities.
Every team in the WHL held a teddy bear toss last season. Except one. The Everett Silvertips.
Why would the Tips be the lone holdout? Why would they forsake such a tremendous spectacle? One that brings out a big crowd, that’s fun for the fans and goes toward a good cause?
Because of the curse.
Everett didn’t always shun teddy bear tosses. Indeed, in the team’s inaugural season the Tips went all out for their teddy bear toss.
I have vivid memories of Dec. 13, 2003, when the Tips were determined to make their teddy bear toss special. Not only were fans encouraged to bring their own teddy bears, the team made sure everyone had their chance to pelt the ice. I remember sitting in the press area an hour before the doors opened, watching the players work the aisles as they placed a teddy bear on every single seat of what was then known as the Everett Events Center.
However, there were two small problems.
First, the Tips scheduled the toss night on a Saturday against the Seattle Thunderbirds. The reasoning makes sense, as Saturday night games between the I-5 rivals have been the biggest draw throughout the Tips’ 13 seasons of existence. The more fans at the game, the more bears on the ice.
But Everett and Seattle are so close geographically that many visiting fans travel to the opposing arenas, and when Seattle’s Aaron Gagnon opened the scoring 11 minutes, 14 seconds into the first period the inevitable happened. Several T-bird fans, armed with teddy bears conveniently placed on their seats, tossed their bears onto the ice, causing a delay.
It happened twice more as Seattle built a 3-0 lead, each goal producing a few more bears and causing a slightly longer delay. When Seattle’s Dustin Johner scored with 21.7 seconds remaining, the frustrated crowd of 7,605 finally had enough, and all the remaining bears came cascading onto the ice. Everett coach Kevin Constantine didn’t even bother sticking around, taking his team back to the locker room for good while the bears were collected. The final 21.7 seconds were run off the clock with the T-birds sitting on their bench and the Everett bench empty.
It was a fiasco. Shut out on teddy bear toss night.
The Tips tried to rectify those issues the next season. Instead of teddy bears they had fans toss toques — knitted caps — onto the ice. And instead of Seattle the opponent was Swift Current, a team from a small Saskatchewan town that surely wouldn’t have any fans in the stands.
Unfortunately for the Tips, a different throwing object and a different opponent produced the same result as Everett was shut out 2-0. The Tips managed to avoid the same logistical mess by having the fans throw their toques onto the ice during the second intermission. But once again the fans didn’t get their release.
A curse was born. Toss night was tossed. Everett would never hold another one.
“We tried it twice, and at the end of it all we didn’t score, so we thought maybe we were jinxed,” Silvertips assistant general manager Zoran Rajcic, who was in charge of Everett’s business operations during those first two fateful toss nights, said prior to Saturday’s game.
“Everybody was anticipating it, and it was something we wanted our fans to enjoy,” Rajcic added. “And still to this day we haven’t given our fans the opportunity to throw the bears onto the ice in the way the promotion was intended.”
So, ever since 2004, toss night has been safely locked away in a closet at Everett’s offices. But after 11 years on hiatus, Rajcic decided it was time to pry the lock off the closet and give the teddy bear toss another shot. Not only had a whole generation of Tips fans come along who knew nothing of the curse, Everett had perhaps exorcised those demons by matching the shutout totals on teddy bear toss nights in other buildings, spoiling Spokane’s party in 2005 and Kamloops’ in 2013.
“Our fans have been asking for it, our staff have kind of been asking for it again,” Rajcic said. “When we were planning we said maybe it is time take a look at it again.”
I was there when the curse began. I was determined to be present when the curse ended.
And end it did. The fans didn’t have to wait long, as Connor Dewar scored on the power play just 2:47 into the game to send the bears flying.
As the bears began cascading onto the ice I heard a guttural yelp from my left, where Rajcic was sitting next to me in the press area. Rajcic’s decision was vindicated, but he had no time for further celebration as he raced downstairs to help with the clean up.
Meanwhile on the ice, the Everett players took a moment to pose with some of the bigger bears before helping load them into the Fanboni and a pair of trucks. The bears are off to Christmas House, which will distribute them to underprivileged children. Everyone’s a winner, no shootout required.
Everett’s teddy bear curse is, indeed, over. There’s no need for another 11-year wait. The teddy bear toss can finally be put back on the Tips’ docket.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/seattlesidelines, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.