Tim Pipes may be the luckiest, unlucky hockey fan in Seattle. He opened The Angry Beaver, the city’s only hockey bar, in 2012, in the middle of an NHL lockout. Then, nearly two years before the NHL approved a Seattle franchise, his bar survived a gas explosion and a robbery.
It looked like the tides were turning when he heard the city would be 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, with the United States’ first confirmed case in Washington state.
Pipes shuttered his business twice. It looked like The Angry Beaver would close forever, just months before the Seattle Kraken's first puck drop. But thanks to the help of devoted, hockey-loving customers who raised thousands of dollars so Pipes’ bar could stay open, he kept going with one goal in mind: hang on for Seattle’s hockey team.
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Pipes went from nearly closing his doors for good to hosting Seattle's front office after the announcement of head coach Dave Hakstol. His luck was finally turning.
“I opened my silly little hockey bar completely selfishly – because I’m Canadian and I wanted to watch some damn hockey,” Pipes said. “Come October, it’s going to be a really exciting time for me, for the hockey fans in Seattle. Part of my job now is to bring the sport to those people that don’t know much about it.”
Symbol of healing
Before even playing a game, the Kraken have become a fixture in the community, something for the people of Seattle to look forward to during one of the most difficult times in recent history. Mayor Jenny Durkan, who saw firsthand how hard her city was hit by COVID-19, knows the first hockey game can’t come soon enough.
“From the very beginning, they were not just building an arena, they were supporting community,” Durkan said. “They’re involved in so many community events coming out of the pandemic to build back better. Seattle has been through such a hard time in the last 18 months and coming out of COVID to now have this new team really helps us imagine and frame a better future.”
Whether they intended it or not, the Kraken have become a symbol of healing. As the city returns to some semblance of normality, Seattle’s NHL franchise can now focus on bringing fans back to live sporting events.
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First, they must build that fan base, which has a strong reputation around the city. Not to mention the ticket sales speak for themselves. The Kraken collected 35,000 deposits for season tickets in a matter of hours, and there are more than 60,000 people on the waiting list. They’ve managed to build constant enthusiasm despite not having NHL players officially on the roster until last night's expansion draft.
Carter Hart, a goaltender with the Philadelphia Flyers, knows a thing or two about Seattle hockey fans’ passion. The 22-year-old Alberta, Canada, native spent all four seasons of his major junior hockey career with the Everett Silvertips, who play at an arena 40 minutes outside of Seattle’s city center.
“It was a great place to play junior hockey,” Hart said. “The fan base was awesome. They really supported us, and they were loud. I love it out there and I know the players that go and end up in Seattle are going to love it, too.”
Ask him his favorite memory about playing in Washington state, and Hart admits the fans at sold-out games were a huge part of his junior experience. He only wishes there was an NHL team in the city when he played there.
“Now for (Seattle) to have an NHL team, I bet all the boys that are playing junior out there would love to go to games,” Hart said. “You already see how loud and passionate Vegas fans are, and I think Seattle is going to be even better. You see how they cheer on their other pro teams. I think it’s going to carry over and it’s going to be cool to see for sure.”
Hart is already looking forward to his first game back in Seattle, with his former billet Parker Fowlds – who 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 waited for hockey history to repeat itself.
And that’s what the Kraken represent, over a century’s worth of history, in hockey and beyond.
Creating a hockey city
This is the second time a professional hockey team calls 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 spot in history as the first American NHL franchise to win the Cup, but by then, Seattle’s team was long gone.
Junior hockey teams moved into the outskirts of Seattle and the sport remained part of the city’s fabric for decades without an NHL team. Colin Campbell, president of the Seattle Thunderbirds junior hockey team, understands why an NHL team will be successful in the Pacific Northwest.
“With the Kraken, people see where we fit with the development model that’s in place,” Campbell said. “The media’s taken more interest in us and our players to get more hockey on because they know the games are coming up this year. Everything that happens takes it to another level. It’s created a buzz that wasn’t necessarily there for hockey in the past.”
Between the Thunderbirds in the south, the Silvertips in the north and the Kraken situated in the middle, Campbell thinks it’s the perfect storm to grow hockey in the region and put Seattle on the map as a hockey city that can compete with rivals across the Canadian border.
Durkan emphasized that the Kraken are focused not only on the team but on building up the community, so the NHL has a future in the city. That starts with the infrastructure the Kraken have built with Seattle in mind.
“We’re doing things differently,” said Bill Chapin, senior vice president of sales for the Kraken. “Start with the arena. It’s a brand-new arena under a historic roof. The actual rain that falls here in Seattle will be collected and that water is going to be turned into the actual ice that the players skate on.”
Climate Pledge Arena is built under the roof of the Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World’s Fair. The Kraken are offering fully subsidized transportation to 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 for multiple sheets of ice that would be open for public use, making the Kraken Community Iceplex the first permanent rink within city limits.
The Kraken’s nonprofit, the One Roof Foundation, aims to connect with the city by addressing some of the region's biggest issues. Seattle is addressing youth homelessness and environmental justice, particularly focusing on how both issues disproportionately impact low-income and predominantly BIPOC neighborhoods in the region.
Building the Kraken
Every decision leading up to the first puck drop has been intentional. That includes prioritizing diversity in their hiring decisions.
“We are an organization that from the very beginning have prioritized diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Katie Townsend, the Kraken's senior vice president of communications and marketing. “It’s at the heart of what we do in terms of our hiring practices, it’s important that our staff reflect our fan base.”
For Mari Horita, the Kraken's vice president of community engagement and social impact, the wins and losses don’t matter, at least not as much as doing right by the community. She knows that making the game more accessible and emphasizing diversity in the game are keys to the Kraken’s success.
“If we don’t, then I’ve failed,” Horita said. “We can’t expect just because we open a shiny new arena that they’re going to come to it. We invest in communities, show up over and over again so that they have a good feeling about who we are, and we make sure they know that this is their story too.”
Even with the Kraken paying homage to Seattle’s history and focusing on the community, there are questions about how the NHL’s youngest franchise will compare to the success of a recent expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights.
So, will an NHL franchise in Seattle be successful?
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 starts Friday. Eventually, those players and coaches will move on.
The Kraken are establishing a foundation that goes beyond the ice, starting with the people of Seattle.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Seattle Kraken bring hockey and hope back to the city post-pandemic