Marcus Messier is in his fourth year with the Tri-City Americans, but tonight will be his first Teddy Bear Toss game.
Messier’s first three season he watched from the stands either injured or a healthy scratch. Two years ago, he watched as his older brother Jordan scored the teddy bear goal 11:58 into the game in a 4-3 shootout win over Everett.
And in the spirit of sibling rivalry, Messier would like to score the first goal tonight — and quicker than his brother did.
“It’s only fair. I’d love to have that settled,” Messier said. “It seems Jordan and I are always battling over something. Especially when he went 40th overall (in the 2007 WHL bantam draft) and I went 41st (in 2009). He’s always telling me ‘couldn’t quite crack the top 40 could you?’ I have to find a way to beat him.
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“It’s really tough to watch from the stands, so I’m really excited to be a part of it. It would be a crazy feeling if I were the one lucky enough to get that one.”
Tonight is the Americans’ 13th annual Teddy Bear Toss game. Over the last 12 years, the Americans are 10-1-0-0 with one tie. The lone loss was an 8-4 setback to Seattle last year.
The Prince George Cougars will play in their first teddy bear game at Toyota Center. The Americans were part of PG’s annual game last Saturday.“It’s obviously a very exciting game,” said Americans veteran forward Connor Rankin. “We were part of it in PG and we are on the other side of it now. It will be a fun event and it goes for a good cause. We are all going to be looking for that first goal, that’s for sure.”
Fan are encouraged to bring stuffed animals to tonight’s game and toss them onto the ice when the Americans score their first goal. For those forgetting their furry friends, Fred Meyer has donated more than 200 that can be purchased for $5.
The toys will be gathered up and distributed to area charities, including the hospitals. Over the years, more than 20,000 cuddly critters have found their way into the arms of children.
“It’s always fun to see the guys score,” said Tri-City goalie Eric Comrie. “It’s going to be exciting because the crowd will be electric that night and it’s fun to get some teddy bears for a really good cause. When we go to the hospitals and bring the stuffed animals, it’s so exciting to see the kids’ faces light up.”
The Americans first began throwing teddy bears on the ice during their first season in 1988-89, but it was more than once a year.It started as a toy trick, where the fans would throw toys on the ice when someone got a hat trick. But with hat tricks hard to come by, they needed a new game plan.
After a few games, the Americans organization took their idea to the Western Hockey League office. After that, the event was scaled back to a few games a year. Now, the team does it once a year during the holiday season.
The Americans may have started the craze with their toys for hat tricks, but the Kamloops Blazers were the first to have just one night set aside for a teddy bear toss for charity, starting in the early 1990s.
There have been 11 different teddy bear goal scorers over the years. Former defenseman Clayton Stoner is the only player to score the goal twice (2003-04). The fastest recorded goal is 37 second by Jordan Cameron in 2001.
“We kind of try to guess,” Americans forward Beau McCue said of who might get the teddy bear goal. “Everyone wants to because it’s such a special moment to get that goal and see all the teddy bears rain down.”
As special as the night is for the players and fans, winning is the ultimate goal of every game.
The Americans (17-14-1-2. 37 points), who have lost two in a row, are tied for seventh in the Western Conference with Vancouver, while the Cougars (12-17-2-3, 29 points) are sitting ninth. The teams split their games last weekend in Prince George.
Tri-City has scored just three goals in its last two games. The players agree, that won’t get the job done.
“Our strength is defensive play, so we aren’t going to be scoring 7-8 goals a game,” Messier said. “That’s just the way we are built. There’s little things we can do like getting to the net and winning battles in front of the net. Every goalie can be beat at some point. Sometimes you need bounces, sometimes you just have to bear down.”
Maybe a rink full of bears will put a little spirit in their game.