Tim Pipes picked a lousy time to open the Angry Beaver. It was the fall of 2012, and the Toronto native couldn’t wait to give Seattle fans a hockey home base. At his Greenwood bar, there’d be Canadian beer, poutine, and most importantly, Maple Leafs—or Bruins, Blackhawks, or Flyers—games on all of the TVs. That September, however, the National Hockey League locked out its players, a labor dispute that dragged on until the start of 2013. Pipes worried that his bar might close before it could host its first Stanley Cup watch party. Then the NHL finally began its shortened season.
“I get a call, my employees are like, ‘You should come down to your bar,’” says Pipes, a garrulous 57-year-old. “And holy fuck, the place was packed! There were people out front looking in the windows. You couldn’t walk through the bar.”
That passion for hockey, writ large, gave rise to the National Hockey League’s 32nd team, the Seattle…something-or-others (more on that later). When the potential franchise began taking season ticket deposits in March of 2018, more than 25,000 people laid out at least $500 in the first hour. Nine months later, the NHL officially approved the team. It has big-money owners in billionaire David Bonderman and Hollywood producer and hockey superfan Jerry Bruckheimer, plus a currently under-construction arena in Seattle Center. And, as of July, a general manager in hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis, most recently the GM of the Carolina Hurricanes. His bona fides: took home two Stanley Cups as a player, wore the captain’s “C” for three different teams, and trails only Wayne Gretzky for the NHL’s all-time assists record. Now he’s tasked with building Seattle a roster for 2021.
When the puck drops on the current NHL season October 2, Seattle hockey will officially launch a two-year countdown to its debut. But our fervor for the sport has been here all along.
“The Seattle hockey community is, or was, the best kept secret in the city for years,” says Zoë Harris, a longtime local hockey coach and former player who is one of the sport’s most accomplished boosters. “I think Seattle has always been hockey friendly, or dare I say, a hockey town, in part because of its rich history in the sport.”
Indeed, Seattle already has a Stanley Cup, won by the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association in 1917, before the NHL existed. For a brief time in 1921 the city also had what is considered to be the first-ever women’s pro team, the Seattle Vamps; that same year the University of Washington’s club team began play. Decades later, at UW, Harris and Cindy Dayley became the first women to coach a men’s collegiate team at any level; they also started the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s women’s division.
Pro and semi-pro teams also skated here from 1952 to 1975, while the junior hockey Seattle Thunderbirds—which left KeyArena for Kent in 2008—date back to 1977. The T-Birds and the Everett Silvertips (which began play in 2003) collectively claimed a dozen alumni in the NHL last season. Thousands of recreational players, young and old, across the region will soon benefit from the NHL team’s new Northgate practice complex (as well as an expanded Sno-King complex on the Eastside). Amateur hockey players—and hockey parents—equal hockey fans.
When John Barr moved to Seattle from Reno in 2004, the recreational player and fan found the Pacific Northwest to be a hockey revelation—“although this isn’t Minnesota, there is a lot of hockey up here.” Today Barr runs the website and social media fan group NHL to Seattle, which has lobbied to bring the national league here since 2012. Besides, adds Barr, “there’s a lot of people that don’t know they’re hockey fans yet.”
Of course, existing fans may not be ready to just ditch their first-love teams. Dawn Madore, the director of Professionals Without Borders at Seattle University, is part of a foursome of future Seattle NHL season ticket holders who cop to being Boston Bruins fans (she and two others originally hail from New England; the sole Washington native in the group is the one who sports a Bobby Orr tattoo). So long as the home team isn’t playing the Bruins, she and her friends are all in. Same for Tim Pipes regarding his Toronto Maple Leafs. “The Seattle-whatever-they-are will be my second love,” he affirms.
Oh yes. The name. “It’s a constant conversation in my place,” says Pipes. “I've heard little bits through the grapevine that it might be a fish name” (he likes Steelheads over Sockeyes). At one point, at a press conference, governor Jay Inslee seemed to float “Totems,” which was the name of Seattle’s Western Hockey Association franchise, but that name screams cultural appropriation in 2019. “Metropolitans” has that Stanley Cup history, but is already taken by an NHL division (and, ahem, a magazine).
“Anything but ‘the Kraken,’” says Dawn Madore, referencing another popular choice (it was endorsed by mayor Jenny Durkan). “I think people just want to be able to shout, ‘Release the Kraken!’”
It always comes back to the name, says Barr, of NHL to Seattle. “I feel like there’s not even remotely a consensus, so you might as well just assume you’re going to hate it. I’m going to be ecstatic with whatever they call it.”