Q. Last week, Vladimir Sobotka scored a hat trick for the St. Louis Blues. How did "hat trick" become associated with scoring three goals in one game, leading fans to throw hats on the ice? -- B.R., of Fairview Heights
A. It's not often we Americans tip our cap to the game of cricket, but this is one time we can't keep the popular English sport under our hats.
The "Extended Oxford English Dictionary" traces the term to a particular day in 1858 when H.H. Stephenson, playing for the all-England 11, set down three wickets with just three balls.
Now, I don't know much about cricket, but from what I read this was like Carl Hubbell striking out Ruth, Gehrig and Foxx in order in the first inning of the 1934 All-Star Game. In 136 years of "test cricket" there reportedly have been only three dozen or so hat tricks.
In any case, after Stephenson mowed down his hapless opponents, they passed around a hat to reward him since cricket players probably didn't have million-pound contracts back then. It was the first time a collection is known to have been taken, but it apparently soon became standard practice. By the 1870s, "hat trick" could be found mentioned in cricket publications.
Of course, that brings up another question: The "hat" is obvious, but why a "trick"? The best speculation involves a new fad in Victorian-era magic shows: the magic hat. While such a trick is old hat to us now, pulling a rabbit out of a hat was just starting to become a novelty in the 1860s.
The thinking is that sports fans thought the cricket accomplishment to be as amazing as a prestidigitator's sleight of hand, and both became popularly known as "hat tricks." Regardless, it became a popular way of fans to say "Hats off to you."
So how did it make its way across the pond to the frozen rinks of the NHL? That's a stickier wicket to explain, but let me give you a few possibilities so you don't think I'm talking through my hat.
According to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Chicago Black Hawks' forward Alex Kaleta walked into Sammy Taft's store in Toronto hours before a Hawks-Leafs game.
Kaleta wanted a new hat but didn't have enough money, so Taft made him a deal: If Kaleta scored three goals that night, the hat would be free. Sure enough, on Jan. 26, 1946, Kaleta scored not three, but four goals. Kaleta got his new topper, Taft enjoyed loads of publicity and a new custom was born.
But like most legends, there are other people now throwing their hats into the ring to account for the now-popular practice. In one similar to the Kaleta-Taft tale, a Toronto haberdasher in the 1940s gave free hats to all players who scored three goals in a game.
A more colorful tale involves the Guelph Mad Hatters of the Ontario Hockey Association, who, in the 1950s were a farm team of the New York Rangers. Sponsored by the Guelph-based Biltmore Hats company, the team gave a new fedora to any Mad Hatter who fired in three goals in a game.
But you can't have a hockey tradition without a contribution from Les Habs. On its web site www.henrihenri.ca, the Montreal hat boutique Henri Henri says that between 1950 and 1970, it gave hats to all players who scored three goals in a game at the Montreal Forum. This, it claims, "brought the 'hat trick' expression into the world of hockey."
Whichever story is true, fans have been celebrating the occasion for decades. Now there are even variations, including a "natural" hat trick for one player netting three straight goals before anyone else on either team can score. (Chicago's Bill Mosienko did it in 21 seconds on March 23, 1952, still an NHL record.)
For a while, there was even a "rat trick." In 1995, Florida's (and one-time St. Louis Blues') Scott Mellanby killed a rat with his hockey stick in the Pittsburgh locker room. When he later scored a hat trick, Florida fans began throwing plastic rats on the ice, a practice later banned.
But you don't have to risk concussions and missing teeth to put a feather in your hat. In addition to rugby and lacrosse, you can notch what some consider a hat trick in darts (three consecutive bull's-eyes), marbles (hitting all marbles in a single turn), and Scrabble (using all seven tiles three turns in a row).
And, if you're wondering what happens to all those hats that come flying down, they're usually given to charity, according to Dave Kindred of The Sporting News.
Who was the last NHL player to score a double hat trick -- six goals in one game?
Answer to Sunday's trivia: Another legend: According to folk history, "corduroy" comes from the French "corde du roi" -- cloth of the king. But the word is now thought to be the combination of "cord," the material's tufted, rowlike pattern, and "duroy," a coarse woolen fabric used in England.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org