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The Tillsonburg Thunder and Salvation Army Tillsonburg and Area collected 183 teddy bears during the team's annual Teddy Bear Toss game

Within seconds of Tillsonburg Thunder’s Nathan Peacock scoring the game’s first goal, teddy bears flew in droves over the glass at Kinsmen Memorial arena.

Peacock’s goal 3:33 into the game signalled for fans to toss the bears on the ice as players from the Tillsonburg Tornadoes tyke team rushed out to collect them.

The final count of 183 teddy bears were picked up that were donated to the Salvation Army Tillsonburg and Area as part of their Christmas hamper program, with locals able to pick their bear Dec. 20 and 21.

“When the parents come in to receive the Christmas hamper, they go through a personal shopping experience and the teddy bears are always a big hit,” Kristina Curtis, the Christmas Kettle Co-ordinator for the Salvation Army Tillsonburg and Area, said.

“Who doesn’t love one at Christmas? They get to pick the one their child would like best. It’s a big bonus to have so many donated with a lot of love and care,” she added.

Curtis said the teddy bears all stay local to the region. The farthest participants in the program are from Port Rowan and Port Burwell.

“It’s a wide area we serve, but all of our Tillsonburg fans come out and really enjoy it,” Curtis said. “We’ve always enjoyed coming and seeing great hockey and then giving out these gifts through our hamper program. It’s a win-win for both sides.”

Now in their 10th year of existence, the Thunder have held the annual game each season. Thunder president Michael Holly said the game always draws the kindness of their fans.

“Tillsonburg fans have always been very good with the teddy bears,” he said, noting they’ve donated to the Salvation Army and Power of Hope in past years. “They know where it’s going and that it’s staying in the area.

“The focus for us has always been Tillsonburg and area players,” Holly added of the importance of the local connection. “There’s a couple guys who come from a bit farther, but no one’s more than London. Fans always want to see their buddies play, guys they watched or played shinny hockey with. It’s really good to see people support the local team and community. It’s neat when they (players) walk upstairs and kids are asking for their autographs.”

Peacock, a Tillsonburg local, earned the teddy bear goal for the second straight year after he netted the goal six seconds into last years annual game.

“There’s always a big competition with the guys on who gets the teddy bear goal,” Holly said.

The game continues to be a display of the community coming together to help others in their region during the Christmas season.

“These are hometown boys and hometown fans and we’ve always had a great hockey heritage in Tillsonburg. Partnering with the Salvation Army brings it home,” Curtis said. “It’s always good to donate back to your community and Tillsonburg fans really understand that.”

gcolgan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/GregatWSR

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