Seattle Kraken bring hockey and hope back to the city post-pandemic

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Tim Pipes is perhaps the happiest and most unhappy hockey fan in Seattle. He opened The Angry Beaver, the only hockey bar in town, in the middle of an NHL lockout in 2012. Then, almost two years before the NHL approved a Seattle franchise, his bar survived a gas explosion and robbery.

It looked like the tide turned when he heard the town was getting a professional hockey team from Kraken owner and CEO Tod Leiweke, who had patronized Pipes’ bar over the years. But then another blow: the pandemic hit Washington state with the first confirmed case of the United States.

Pipes closed its business twice. It looked like The Angry Beaver was about to close forever, just months before the Seattle Kraken’s first puck. But with the help of dedicated, ice hockey-loving customers who raised thousands of dollars to keep Pipes’ bar open, he had one goal: to stay with Seattle’s hockey team.

WINNER AND LOSER:From the Seattle Kraken expansion draft

WHO YOU HAVE CHOOSED:All 30 picks of the Seattle Kraken in the NHL expansion draft

Seattle Kraken bring hockey and hope back to the city post-pandemic

Pipes has almost closed its doors to house Seattle’s front office following the announcement by head coach Dave Hakstol. His luck finally turned.

“I opened my silly little hockey bar selfishly – because I’m Canadian and I wanted to see some fucking hockey games,” Pipes said. “October will be a really exciting time for me, for the hockey fans in Seattle. Part of my job now is to bring the sport to people who don’t know much about it. “

Symbol of healing

Before even playing a game, the Kraken became a staple of the community that Seattle residents can look forward to in one of the toughest times in recent history. Mayor Jenny Durkan, who has seen firsthand how badly her city has been hit by COVID-19, knows that the first hockey game cannot come soon enough.

“Right from the start, they didn’t just build an arena, they supported the community,” said Durkan. “You are involved in so many community events coming out of the pandemic to build better. Seattle has been going through such a rough time in the past 18 months and leaving COVID to have this new team is really helping us envision and build a better future. “

Wanted or not, the octopus has become a symbol of healing. As the city returns to some semblance of normalcy, Seattle’s NHL franchise can now focus on bringing fans back to live sporting events.

Seattle Kraken's draft expansion will select Jordan Eberle, Chris Driedger, Brandon Tanev, Jamie Oleksiak, Haydn Fleury and Mark Giordano during Wednesday's draft expansion at Gas Works Park.

DRAFT EXTENSION:All 30 picks of the Seattle Kraken Kra

WINNER AND LOSER:Breaking down the Seattle Kraken expansion design

First, they need to build a fan base that has a good reputation across the city. Not to mention the ticket sales speak for themselves. The Kraken collected 35,000 depots for season tickets within a few hours, and more than 60,000 people are on the waiting list. They managed to build constant enthusiasm even though NHL players weren’t officially in the roster until last night’s draft expansion.

Carter Hart, the Philadelphia Flyers goalkeeper, knows a thing or two about the passion of Seattle hockey fans. The 22-year-old native of Alberta, Canada, spent all four seasons of his great junior hockey career with the Everett Silvertips, which play in an arena 40 minutes outside of downtown Seattle.

“It was a great place to play junior hockey,” said Hart. “The fan base was great. They really supported us and they were loud. I love it out there and I know the players who go and end up in Seattle will love it too. “

Ask him about his favorite memory of playing in Washington state, and Hart admits that when the games were sold out, fans made up a large part of his junior experience. He just wished there was an NHL team in town when he played there.

“With (Seattle) now having an NHL team, I bet all the boys who play juniors out there would love to go to games,” Hart said. “You can already see how loud and passionate Vegas fans are, and I think Seattle will get even better. You see them cheer on their other professional teams. I think it will carry over and it will be cool to see for sure. “

Hart is already looking forward to his first game back in Seattle with his former quartermaster Parker Fowlds – whom Hart describes as a grandfather – in the stands. The two will represent two generations of hockey in Washington: the new cohort of players, a number that will only grow with the Kraken in town, and the fans who have been waiting for hockey history to repeat itself.

And that is what the Kraken stands for, with a history spanning over a hundred years in hockey and beyond.

In this Jan. 9, 2018 photo, Seattle Thunderbirds hockey players join fans as they sing the national anthem at the ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington, about 20 miles south of Seattle.  The history of hockey in Seattle dates back more than a century when the Seattle Metropolitans hosted the Stanley Cup in 1917.

Create a hockey city

This is the second time a professional hockey team has called Seattle home. In 1917, the Metropolitans became the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. Eleven years later, the New York Rangers cemented their place in history as the first American NHL franchise to win the trophy, but by then Seattle’s team was long gone.

Junior hockey teams moved to the suburbs of Seattle, and the sport stayed part of the city for decades without an NHL team. Colin Campbell, president of the Seattle Thunderbirds junior hockey team, understands why an NHL team will thrive in the Pacific Northwest.

“With Kraken, people see where we fit in with the existing development model,” said Campbell. “The media has shown more interest in us and our players to play more hockey because they know the games are coming up this year. Everything that happens takes it to another level. It sparked an enthusiasm that wasn’t necessarily there in the past for hockey. “

Between the Thunderbirds in the south, the Silvertips in the north, and the Kraken in the middle, Campbell thinks it is the perfect storm to expand hockey in the region and put Seattle on the map as a hockey city that can rival rivals across Canada.

Durkan emphasized that the Kraken are not only focused on the team, but also on building the community so that the NHL has a future in the city. It starts with the infrastructure the Kraken built with a view to Seattle.

“We do things differently,” said Bill Chapin, senior vice president of sales at Kraken. “Start with the arena. It’s a brand new arena under one historic roof. The actual rain that falls here in Seattle is collected and the water is turned into the actual ice that the players skate on. “

The roof sign of the Climate Pledge Arena, home of the NHL hockey team Seattle Kraken and the WNBA Seattle Storm basketball team.

The Climate Pledge Arena is located under the roof of the Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World’s Fair. The Kraken provide fully subsidized transportation to the Games on the same monorail that was built for the World’s Fair. Seattle built a new practice facility for the team, and Leiweke advocated several ice rinks that would be open to the public, making the Kraken Community Iceplex the first permanent ice rink within the city limits.

Kraken’s nonprofit, One Roof Foundation, wants to get in touch with the city by addressing some of the region’s biggest problems. Seattle addresses youth homelessness and environmental justice, specifically how both issues disproportionately affect low-income and mostly BIPOC neighborhoods in the region.

A flag with the new logo for the Seattle Kraken flies on Thursday, July 23, 2020 in Seattle on the legendary Space Needle.

Build the Kraken

Every decision that led to the first puck drop was deliberate. This also includes prioritizing diversity in your hiring decisions.

“We are an organization that has been committed to diversity, equal opportunity and inclusion from the very beginning,” said Katie Townsend, senior vice president of communications and marketing at Kraken. “It’s at the heart of our hiring practices. It is important that our employees reflect our fan base. “

For Mari Horita, Krakens vice president of social engagement and impact, gains and losses don’t matter, at least not as much as doing what’s right for the community. She knows that improving the game and emphasizing the diversity in the game are keys to the Kraken’s success.

“If we don’t, I’ve failed,” said Horita. “We can’t expect them to get there just because we’re opening a shiny new arena. We invest in communities, keep popping up to make them feel good about who we are, and we make sure they know this is their story too. “

While the Kraken pays homage to Seattle’s history and focuses on the community, how does the NHL’s newest franchise compare to the success of a recent expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights.

Will an NHL Franchise Succeed in Seattle?

Forget the players the Kraken added to the roster on Wednesday night, coach Hakstol, and even the prospects Seattle will pick in the NHL draft that begins Friday. At some point these players and coaches will move on.

The Kraken are starting a foundation that goes beyond the ice, starting with the people of Seattle.

Contact Alyssa Hertel at ahertel@usatoday.com or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.