April 15, 2023

Just remember, Seattle won the Stanley Cup 79 years before Colorado did.


More on that in a bit, but Friday night we found out it would be the Kraken vs. the Avalanche in the first round of the 2023 NHL playoffs, with Game 1 on Tuesday and Game 2 on Thursday at Ball Arena. 


Kraken roster


Kraken stats 


Playoff hockey tends to be invigorating under any circumstances and in any venue. But the fact that this is the Seattle franchise's first postseason will add to the excitement, especially when the series switches to Climate Change Arena on the Seattle Center grounds for Games 3 and 4 on April 22 and April 24. 


Misleadingly, the narrative at least occasionally about the expansion Kraken in their* first two seasons has been that Seattle specifically, and the Pacific Northwest in general, are "new" hockey territories.


They aren't.


Not even close.


Hockey is a Pacific Northwest tradition, most notably in Seattle and Portland, the Interstate 5 cities that are a 175-mile drive apart.


The Kraken, with David Bonderman as majority owner, are taking advantage of that, hitting all the right moves in the community from Day One. Other members of the ownership group include film and television producer Jerry BruckheimerTod Leiweke and Andy Jassy. Leiweke, instrumental in bringing the NHL to Seattle, also is president and CEO. 


With the Vegas Golden Knights, who made the Stanley Cup Final in their first season, 2017-18, serving as inspiration, the Kraken already have made the postseason in their second season. The chances of the Kraken duplicating that first-season Vegas run are slim, but they seem headed in the right direction. (As were the Golden Knights, this season the Pacific Division champion No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, ahead of the Avalanche.)        


I attended many Trail Blazers-SuperSonics NBA games at what then was called the Seattle Coliseum, an undersized and intimate building with SRO crowds that still were under 15,000. Arena issues eventually were at the forefront of the reasons for the Sonics' move to Oklahoma City in 2008.   


The Space Needle, another remnant of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Elvis even made a filming appearance for the cinema classic, "It Happened at the World's Fair") remains on the Seattle Center grounds. The rebuilt coliseum that now serves as the home of the Kraken -- Climate Pledge Arena -- is unrecognizable, though. It's Exhibit A that there are viable alternatives to starting construction from scratch on a "new" site. Hockey capacity is 17,151. 


As the Kraken went through their first two NHL regular seasons, the atmosphere in their building has been impressive. I sampled it up close when I covered the Avalanche's first-ever Seattle meeting with the Kraken in late November 2021. 


I was raised on The Who and Hendrix, so this isn't about chasing you off my lawn. But if the amps in "This is Spinal Tap" go to 11, right across the board, those for the in-house music and presentations in Climate Pledge Arena go to 17. And the crowds do a notable job of trying to keep up.


In part, the mega-decibels seem to be a countermeasure to so many of the fans at the home games dressed in visiting team garb and reacting accordingly. (Seattle rivals Denver as a market of transplants.)   


I'm told that at Kraken home games against the Rangers, sections have looked -- and sounded -- like Hell's Kitchen bars. Games against the Blackhawks have looked -- and sounded -- like Harry Carey's. That happens in the best of NHL markets, though. Right, Denver?


After the Sonics' departure, Seattle was without a big-league winter-sports franchise for 13 years. The NFL Seahawks and MLB Mariners were around, but the void was obvious, and the Kraken have taken advantage of that. They draw a significant number of fans -- who scramble to get tickets -- from across the state of Washington and as far south as Oregon. (So do the Mariners and Seahawks.)     


This is a new hockey chapter, but Seattle has been a hockey "market" at least as far back as when the Pacific Coast Hockey Association's Seattle Metropolitans were around from 1915-24. They won the Stanley Cup in 1917, defeating the Montreal Canadiens 3 games to 1 in the Final. In fact, the year before, in 1916, the PCHA champion Portland Rosebuds lost to the Canadiens in the Final, 3 games to 2. 


The NHL was founded later in 1917, replacing the National Hockey Association on the professional hockey scene. The first NHL team to win the Stanley Cup was the New York Rangers in 1928.


The most notable of the PCHA Metropolitans' other two Stanley Cup finals appearances was in 1919, when the Spanish Flu pandemic led to the cancellation of the series with the Metropolitans tied 2-2-1 with the Canadiens. The Metropolitans also made the Final in 1920, losing 3-2 to the Ottawa Senators. They folded in 1924, mostly because of arena issues. ("Arena issues" apparently are Seattle traditions.)


Eventually, the Seattle Totems were long-time members of the Western Hockey League, the minor-league pro version. That's the league that first drew my hockey attention, and it at various times included other franchises such as the Portland Buckaroos, San Francisco Seals, San Diego Gulls, Vancouver Canucks, Phoenix Roadrunners and even the Denver Spurs from 1968-74.


The Buckaroos' games occasionally were televised by Portland's Channel 12, with sports director Jimmy Jones at the microphone. I watched.


Among the league's entrenched superstars were the Totems' Guyle Fielder (who was honored by the Kraken in their inaugural season) and the Buckaroos' Art Jones. In their era, they showed that some terrific players couldn't crack and stick in the NHL, or even want to stick on the fringe of an NHL roster.


Then the Seattle Breakers arrived in 1977 as the city's entry in major junior's Western Hockey League, one of the three major junior leagues competing under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella. They were renamed the Thunderbirds in 1977. (The recycling of the WHL name at times leads to confusion.) 


The Kraken's arrival didn't kill off or chase away the Thunderbirds. They moved to suburban Kent and the ShoWare Center in 2009 and have been there ever since. Their alumni include Patrick Marleau, Petr Nedved, Chris Osgood, Mark Parrish, Matthew Barzal, Jan Hrdina, Brooks Laich, Jon Klemm and Calvin Pickard. The full list.  


Joe Sakic is among the many current and former NHL stars who played in Seattle against the Thunderbirds. He was a member of the Swift Current Broncos for two seasons before joining the Nordiques.


One of the other U.S.-based entries in the major junior version of the WHL are the Portland Winterhawks, part of another heated Portland-Seattle hockey rivalry. Actually, it makes Sonics-Blazers seem like singing around the campfire and in hockey terms reminds me of CC-DU.


The WHL's other U.S. franchises all are in Washington, too -- the Everett Silvertips, Tri-City (Richland, Kennewick and Pasco) Americans, and Spokane Chiefs. 


The NHL seems likely to stay at the conveniently divided 32 teams for the foreseeable future, but Portland -- an easy 175-mile drive from Seattle -- should be at the top of the list for franchise location or expansion, giving the Pacific Northwest two NHL teams. The only asterisk there is that the Winterhawks are a reasonably priced alternative to Trail Blazers games and many of their season-ticket holders, the biggest hockey fans in town, would be priced out of the buildings if the Winterhawks move out of the area completely. (They play in both the Moda Center and the still-standing adjacent Veterans Memorial Coliseum.)

But hockey's roots are deep in Seattle and its region.


(* Sorry, grammarians and copy editors. I generally treat singular nicknames as plural. It's the ear test.) 



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