As a lifelong Seattle sports fan, former ESPN.com writer and reporter, the question I get asked the most recently is about NHL hockey coming to Seattle. “Are you excited for the puck to drop in the Emerald City?”
My response, “Umm …. Sure?” People freak out when I say that.
Full disclosure: I have never played hockey, have only watched a handful of professional games on TV and hardly follow it in the media. I have been to fewer than five total hockey games in my life: one Seattle Thunderbirds game, three Sun Valley Suns games (semi-pro) and one NHL game. The Suns games were by far the funniest, as the beers were half price if the game went to overtime and there were fights about every 30 seconds.
The one NHL game was in Madison Square Garden in New York sitting rinkside for a Rangers vs. Islanders game. Wow. Sitting that close was an experience to say the least and you realize how big the players are and how physical the game can be. TV has nothing on live hockey.
So why is my excitement lukewarm? For one, my sample size for live hockey is quite small. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest and more specifically in Tacoma, Washington, we played baseball, basketball and soccer. Hockey was not an option. We heard about Canadian transplants using the local ice rinks for pickup games, but we were not aware or exposed to any teams or leagues. Hockey was a sport we maybe watched every four years when the Olympics rolled around. It just wasn’t an option.
I’m a true believer that if you never played the game, it is a tough task to get really excited about it let alone become diehard. I’m a huge soccer fan because I’ve played it my whole life. But I have many friends that didn’t play as a kid and find it slow and boring. I get it. I feel the same way about hockey.
But I’m here to say, I’m willing to learn. I am ready to convert. It is the one sport I don’t have on my resume of knowledge. Like I said earlier, the games I attended were fun. I really hope that is the case for Seattle. I think this town will get behind this team. I was shocked by the reaction from fans as they sold 25,000 season tickets in less than an hour. Impressive—momentum seems to be building.
But one of the main reasons I can get excited about a new franchise in Seattle is the hope this new team and new(ish) stadium is a gateway to bringing back the NBA and the Seattle SuperSonics. The travesty of the team leaving is for another column but I still have not recovered. I went to a ton of games and worked for the radio station that covered the games. I was fully immersed.
My dream is for these new owners to refurbish an aging Key Arena into a world-class venue; that will give the city more ammunition to persuade the league to right a wrong and bring the team back. Fingers crossed.
I’m still in disbelief the city balked at a free (privately financed) NBA-ready stadium. Everything was in place for the new downtown multi-use venue but city leadership chose to save Seattle Center and focus their arena needs at the base of the Space Needle. Only time will tell if that is the right move. If they can show that people will fill a stadium in the heart of the city with all the traffic congestion it will cause, the NBA will have to take notice.
The downtown stadium efforts are still simmering so that may still be an option down the road. But I imagine NBA leadership in New York will be watching closely on how Seattleites embrace an expansion team (Las Vegas Golden Knights?). I believe they will be pleasantly surprised.
I, for one, will be watching closely as well and you might even find me pressed against the boards rooting for the Seattle … Sockeye, Kraken? Metropolitans? Sockeye? Orcas? Steelheads? Emeralds? Choose one.