The hats hit the ice after a hat trick. Then what?

During his rookie season with the Carolina Hurricanes, Sebastian Aho walked back to his locker to see it filled with hats. Three garbage bags full to be exact.

Aho was at a loss. He had just earned his first professional hat trick, and the tradition goes, when a player scores three goals, fans throw their hats on the ice to celebrate the accomplishment. Aho just didn’t realize that would come with multiple bags of lids. Shocked to see them all, Aho had no idea what to do with them.

His teammates joked “You got some new hats!” as Aho removed the bags from his locker and took a seat as he surveyed his bounty.

When asked what he was going to do with his hats, Aho replied, “I really don’t know.”

Hockey fans have been throwing their hats onto the ice after a player scores three goals since the 1950s, back when every fan wore a hat as a matter of fashion. Aho and the rest of the Hurricanes aren’t strangers to the tradition, but the question remains: what happens to all those hats when they hit the ice?

Since Aho was a rookie, the team decided to bag his up and have them waiting in his locker. But the story doesn’t always end there once the brims leave the heads of their previous owner.

According to Hurricanes vice president Jon Chase, the players are asked what they want to do with the hats. Most of the time they will donate them to a local non profit organization. Occasionally a player will sign a hat, including the date of the hat trick and keep it in their locker. More times than not, they are donated, which isn’t as simple as taking the bag and dropping them off.

Before that they have to be frozen in order to “kill anything associated with the hat,” Chase said.

There have been games when Carolina just happened to host a hat giveaway, handing them out to fans as they enter PNC, only to have a player score a hat trick, resulting in thousands of hats on the ice. On John Deere hat giveaway night in 2010, the ice was covered in green hats after Eric Staal’s hat trick.

“That’s a double-edged sword,” Chase said. “It creates an amazing moment, it’s a sea, you feel like you’re being swarmed. Those games you get hats in the thousands.”

That’s when Jared Dupre and his crew come in. Dupre, the ice technician at PNC Arena, has been working with the Hurricanes for 20 years. When a player gets two goals, Dupre orders his team (at least 15 members of the ice crew) to get in position, trash bags ready to go.

When it happens, Dupre said it’s a mad scramble to get them all cleaned up as quickly as possible. Once they are all bagged up, Dupre will take the hats to his office for the night. The next day he reaches out to the Canes’ public relations office to see what to do with them.

The players will keep a few sometimes, but mostly Dupre freezes and donates them.

He’s seen three 55-gallon trash bags full of hats on a good night. He said the biggest collection he’s seen at PNC was Aho’s hat trick last year, and Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals a few years ago, when Washington fans made the trip to Raleigh in big numbers.

Carolina captain Justin Williams said his son came over and picked out a hat from the pile after Aho’s second career hat trick in January this season. Williams has never had a hat trick for the Canes, and said he isn’t sure what Aho did with all of his. In certain cases, the hats have served as props as part of a prank involving the player who scored the three goals.

“It’s pranks going on all the time,” Williams said. “To lighten the mood in the workplace, there’s plenty of them going on.”

Dupre even played a part in one a few years ago involving Justin Faulk. When Faulk got a hat trick, the other players got one over on him by sticking the lids to Faulk’s windshield.

“We went out while the game was still going on,” Dupre said, laughing. “When he came out he found them stuck to his truck.”

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Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.