The jersey toss has become Canada’s ultimate sign of hockey frustration

NHL jersey toss
Codie McLachlan, Getty Images

It is not terribly uncommon to see objects end up on the ice of an NHL game. In most cases, it is done as an act of celebration after a big moment or to kick off a playoff game.

Hats after a hat trick. Plastic rats in Florida. Catfish in Nashville. Octopi in Detroit. That weird season where Senators fans threw cheeseburgers on the ice because their third string goalie was known as the Hamburglar. Innocent, fun, and generally a sign that something good has been happening for the home team over the preceding game or season.

Over the past few years, though, a new trend has started north of the border where fans of bad NHL teams across Canada have resorted to throwing jerseys on the ice as a form of, um, disgust? Anger? Frustration? All of the above?

It happened again on Tuesday night in Edmonton late in the Oilers’ 5-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, extending their current losing streak to six games, dropping them to the playoff bubble, and erasing all of the goodwill that was built up during a 9-1-0 start to the season. It is not hard to see why Oilers fans are frustrated. Despite having the two best offensive players in the league the team has not found any postseason success of any kind and seems to be aimlessly treading water in a sea of mediocrity where they still seem a tier or two below the true Stanley Cup contenders.

It is somewhat fitting this happened in a game against Toronto, because Maple Leafs fans made this famous back when they were deep into their rebuild and had not yet climbed out of it (for what it is worth, we also saw one even as recently as this season). It happened multiple times, including one game in the 2014-15 season where three of them ended up hitting the ice.

But while Toronto is where it really became famous, there was a jersey on the ice in Calgary as far back as the 2011-12 season.

Eventually, we saw it happen in Ottawa….

Then just a little over a week ago we saw it happen in Vancouver before the team made its wholesale organizational changes.

Also in Montreal this season….

The only Canadian-based team that has seemed to avoid this completely is, of all teams, the Winnipeg Jets.

So what’s the deal with this? And why do we only, almost exclusively, only see this happen with the Canadian-based teams?

There is no doubt a genuine element of frustration here because in every case the situation is grim for the team. It is either mired in an ugly losing streak, a terrible season, or both. Fans get frustrated, fans want to express that frustration, and sometimes just booing the team or chanting for somebody to get fired just is not enough. Sometimes you just want to throw something.

There is also probably an attention-seeking copycat element to all of this. The jersey toss gets seen on TV, it gets talked about, people laugh about it (others get mad about it), and somebody in the middle of their rage watching of another loss just wants to entertain themselves.

But that still leaves the unanswered of question of why this seems to only be limited — mostly — to Canadian fans? What’s going on up there that this is the way they voice their displeasure? Maybe because it is the ultimate insult to the team? No sport holds its jersey and logo in higher regard than hardcore hockey people, and you don’t have to look any further than some of the team and player reactions to the jersey toss. They hate it. It is almost like a personal insult to them. It is almost like the hockey equivalent of sending up the white flag and giving up on your team.

Whatever the case, whenever jerseys started hitting the ice it is a pretty good sign that major changes are coming to a team. It is almost as if it becomes rock bottom for the organization. In the weeks after that Flames jersey? Brent Sutter got fired. In Ottawa? Major changes started to follow. Toronto? Coaches fired. Vancouver? Coach and general manager fired. Montreal? The GM is already gone.

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