There have been just three defensemen who have scored the teddy bear goal for the Tri-City Americans. Juuso Välimäki broke a 10-year drought when he scored just 2:07 into the game against Everett last year.
“Hopefully one of us can put it in again this year,” veteran defenseman Parker Wotherspoon said. “It would be memorable to score that goal.”
Tri-City (18-11-2-0, 38 points) will host Kelowna (17-11-1-0, 35 points) on Friday. Saturday, the Americans will put on their Santa hats against Victoria at Toyota Center for their 16th annual Teddy Bear Toss game. This weekend’s games are at 7:05 p.m.
It is the first time the Royals (16-13-2-0, 34 points) have visited for the annual Teddy Bear Toss game.
“It’s always fun,” said Wotherspoon, who has five goals and 24 assists this season. “It’s intense, and everyone is going hard right off the bat. It’s such a good cause. Hopefully the crowd is rocking.”
Välimäki’s goal was the first by a defenseman since Logan Stephenson in 2005. His goal brought in 2,687 furry friends that were distributed to Mid-Columbia charities.
Former defenseman Clayton Stoner is the only Tri-City player to score the teddy bear goal twice (2003, ’04). The fastest goal is 37 seconds by Jordan Cameron in 2001.
Over the years, more than 28,000 stuffed animals have found their way into the arms of area children.
Those numbers don’t hold a candle to the hauls in Portland or Calgary — this year’s Teddy Bear Toss game in Calgary brought in more than 23,000. But Tri-City coach Mike Williamson, who previously coached the Portland Winterhawks and Calgary Hitmen, said it’s the thought, not the number.
“Both places have large amounts of teddy bears because of the size of the venue and the amount of fans,” Williamson said. “It’s special regardless. It’s unique. It’s not something that happens every game. It’s marked on the calendar, and people look forward to it. We get a great turnout. The biggest thing is it’s for a great cause.”
For those forgetting their stuffed animals, a variety of teddy bears will be for sale at the game for $5 and $10.
Forward Jordan Topping also would like to put the first puck in the net.
“I’m sure everyone wants to score it,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to see them all coming down, and it goes to a great cause. Hopefully we score early. You don’t want that hanging over your head the whole game.”
“I always have butterflies in my stomach,” he said. “You have to make sure you have a good start and make sure the focus is in the right area. Our guys will be extremely excited. There is always a lot of energy, and the fans are anxious to get the bears out there. We just hope it happens early.”
The Americans, who knocked off U.S. Division-leading Everett on Wednesday, already have four more wins than they did at the Christmas break last year.
They have six games remaining before the Western Hockey League takes a nine-day holiday break.
WORLD JUNIOR CAMP: Välimäki was one of 28 players invited to Team Finland’s World Junior Championship camp, which begins Monday in Sherbrooke, Quebec. It will include exhibition games against Canada on Dec. 19 and Slovakia on Dec. 22.
The WJC runs from Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Montreal and Toronto. Finland is the defending champion.
Tri-City Americans who scored the teddy bear goal (all in the first period except where specified):
2015 | Juuso Välimäki (2:07), 3-2 loss to Everett
2014 | Richard Nejezchleb (7:31), 4-0 win over Seattle
2013 | Connor Rankin (1:31, 2nd), 5-1 loss to Prince George
2012 | Parker Bowles (12:29), 8-4 loss to Seattle
2011 | Jordan Messier (11:58), 4-3 (SO) win over Everett
2010 | Brendan Shinnimin (1:10), 4-1 win over Seattle
2009 | Brooks Macek (11:57), 5-2 win over Portland
2008 | Mitch Fadden (:58), 4-1 win over Calgary
2007 | Shaun Vey (13:10), 5-2 win over Seattle
2006 | Colton Yellow Horn (11:57), 4-3 win over Spokane
2005 | Logan Stephenson (11:43), 4-0 win over Everett
2004 | Clayton Stoner (10:34, 2nd), 2-2 tie with Kelowna
2003 | Clayton Stoner (1:48), 4-2 win over Everett
2002 | Jake Riddle (4:08, 2nd), 4-3 win over Portland
2001 | Jordan Cameron (:37), 7-4 win over Vancouver