Seattle’s first NHL team will make its debut in the fall, but the city had a substantial professional hockey history long before the Kraken came to town.
The city’s history with the sport stretches back to the Metropolitans in the early 1900s. There were the Olympics and the Sea Hawks (No, not those Seahawks) and the Totems. The Seattle Thunderbirds —formerly the Breakers — have been here since the 1970s.
Want to know more about professional hockey in the Seattle area before the Kraken take the ice this fall? We got you covered.
Let’s start at the beginning.
The Seattle Metropolitans were a professional hockey team based in Seattle that played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1915-1924. The PCHA’s most successful franchise, the Metropolitans finished their run with a 112-96 overall record and five PCHA championships,
The Metropolitans, or the Mets for short, played home games in the Seattle Ice Arena, made seven postseason appearances in nine years and played for the Stanley Cup three times between 1916-17 and 1919-20.
In 1917, the Metropolitans became the first American team to win the Cup — 11 years before the New York Rangers became the first NHL American franchise to win. The Montreal Canadiens, who played in the National Hockey Association, were heavily favored in the series, but Seattle won 3-1 by a combined score of 23-11. Bernie Morris scored 14 of Seattle’s goals, including six in Game 4.
While Games 1 and 3 were played under PCHA rules, Games 2 and 4 were playing using NHA rules. The major differences? The PCHA allowed forward passing in the neutral zone, but no substitution for penalized players while the NHA had no forward passing but allowed substitutions. The PCHA also played with seven players per side while the NHA allowed six.
The Metropolitans played for the Stanley Cup again in 1919, but the championship was canceled after five games due to the flu pandemic (when we have heard that before?) with the series tied 2-2-1. Seattle lost the Cup in five games in 1920.
After the 1923-24 season, the team was informed that the Seattle Ice Arena would be converted into a parking garage. The team folded in 1924 when a replacement couldn’t be found. Most members of the Metropolitans joined Victoria.
Eskimos, Sea Hawks and Olympics
After the Civic Ice Arena was constructed in 1928, professional hockey returned to Seattle. Pete Muldoon, who was a former manager of the Metropolitans, was part of the group that formed the Pacific Coast Hockey League. He also served as one of the owners of the Seattle franchise, the Eskimos. The team started play in 1928-29, but folded after the 1930-31 season.
Two years later, professional hockey returned to the city with the creation of the Northwest Hockey League. Seattle’s team was dubbed the Sea Hawks.
The team was sold before the 1940-41 season and was given a new name — the Seattle Olympics. The Olympics went 20-21-7 in their first and only season. The PCHL folded the following year.
Seattle Totems (among other names)
The Seattle Totems played in the Pacific Coast Hockey League — renamed the Western Hockey League in 1952 — between 1944 and 1974. They competed under several names: Seattle Ironmen (1944-52), Seattle Bombers (1952-54) and Seattle Americans (1955-58).
The Totems played in Civic Ice Arena before moving to the Seattle Center Coliseum. They won three WHL Lester Patrick Cup championships (1959, 1967, 1968) and competed in the Central Hockey League in 1974-75, which was their last season.
As the Ironmen, the team played in the Pacific Coach Hockey League — resurrected as a semi-professional league after World War II. The club, then known as the Seattle Isacsson Iron Workers, had been formed a year before and played in the Northwest International Hockey League. They were renamed when they entered the PCHL. The team won the league in 1948.
In 1952, the league became the Western Hockey League and the Ironmen changed their name to the Bombers the following season.
Guyle Fielder, who became Seattle’s greatest minor league scorer in history, made his debut during these years. Fielder played 15 of his 22 professional seasons in Seattle. He finished his career with 1,929 points in 1,487 games. He was named the league’s MVP six times.
“He was the greatest minor league player I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Fielder’s former coach and Philadelphia Flyer executive Keith Allen. “He could make a play as well as anyone in hockey.”
Fielder played in an era when the NHL consisted of just six teams, which relegated many accomplished players to the minor leagues. Fielder played just 15 games in the NHL.
“(Fielder) played his own style of hockey, but (in the NHL) you played the style they wanted.” said former teammate Val Fonteyne, who played in the NHL. They used to tell you if you don’t make the play just dump the puck in. But Guyle used to hang on to it until he made the play. You could get away with that in the minors but not in the NHL.”
In 1955, the PCHL suspended play due to increasing travel costs.
The team rebranded as the Seattle Americans a season later. In 1957, Fielder broke the professional single-season scoring record and was named the Most Valuable Player. The team also finished in first place that year. In 1958 — the team’s last as the Americans — the franchise won a playoff series for the first time.
Previous expansion attempts
This isn’t the first time Seattle attempted to secure an NHL expansion team — it’s just the first time it’s been successful.
In June 1974, the NHL announced that a Seattle group led by lawyer Vince Abbey had been awarded an expansion team that was set to begin play during the 1976-77 season. In order to finalize the team, Abbey and his group needed to pay a $180,000 deposit at the end of 1975 and pay a total franchise fee of $6 million. Abbey also had to repurchase shares in the Totems.
When Abbey missed several deadlines, the NHL threatened to remove the franchise. The Totems folded after the 1974-75 season, which left Seattle without a hockey team for the first time in 20 years. Abbey then attempted to purchase the California Seals — an NHL team that competed from 1967 to 1976— but failed. As a result, the NHL removed the expansion franchise from Seattle.
A second attempt to secure an expansion team was made in 1990. If a group was willing to meet the $50 million asking price, then-Seattle SuperSonics owner Barry Ackerly said he would submit an expansion application as part of a new proposed arena deal. A team led by Microsoft executive Chris Larson and former Seattle Totems turned coach Bill MacFarland showed interest.
But the push for an expansion team stalled. Back then, MacFarland told The News Tribune that Ackerley unexpectedly pulled the application while the group was in Florida to meet with the NHL. MacFarland said he and Larson were under the impression they were there to file a formal application. Ackerley told The News Tribune he believed the money wasn’t there.
“We didn’t want to damage our name and reputation with the NHL by offering up something that would be unacceptable to them,” Ackerley said then. “We went to Florida with the intent of pulling the application. We just felt it wasn’t going to happen financially.”
Ackerly withdrew his application in December 1990, telling the NHL he was unable to find an ownership group willing to meeting the asking price.
MacFarland said both he and Larson were “floored.”
“We couldn’t believe it,” MacFarland told the Seattle P-I. “Why were we here? How could they sit with us and not tell us what they were going to do?”
The league added teams in two cities — Ottawa and Tampa — that were willing pay the amount. At the time, a $50 million expansion fee was more than the value of any NHL team.
The Seattle Thunderbirds, who are based in Kent and play in the accesso ShoWare Center, are part of the U.S. Division of the Western Conference in the Western Hockey League.
In 1977, the team moved from British Columbia to Seattle and became the Seattle Breakers. The Breakers, who played in the Seattle Center Ice Arena, existed for eight seasons and finished with a record of 225-319-32.
The Breakers were sold to new owners after the 1984-85 season and were renamed the Seattle Thunderbirds. Glen Goodall joined the team during the 1986-87 season and remained through 1990. He still holds Thunderbirds’ records in goals, assists and points and his jersey is the only one retired by the team.
“Glen was a fierce competitor,” former Portland Winterhawks star Dennis Holland told NHL to Seattle. “A guy that I loved playing against and we had some great battles. He was very dangerous off the rush with speed and skill. I had lots of respect for him coming into the league at 14, something I know I couldn’t have done.”
At just 14-years-old, Goodall was invited to Seattle’s camp with the chance to make the team. The plan was for him to play in 15 games, but he performed so well that he remained for the full season and spent six more years in Seattle.
“I remember driving into Seattle, in those days we were right downtown, it was something else,” Goodall told NHL to Seattle. “I loved it. I look back on my career and I say this many times, Seattle was the best time of my career. I just loved it.”
In 1989-90, the Thunderbirds enjoyed the best regular season in franchise history. They finished 52-17-3 and ranked No. 1. Due to an increase in popularity, they began playing home games in the Seattle Center Coliseum, which frequently sold out despite holding nearly 12,000 people. The Thunderbirds fell in the division finals.
The Thunderbirds finished the 2016-17 season with the second-most wins in team history (46) and went on to win their first league title, beating the Regina Pats 4-2 in the championship series.
Thunderbird players reacted to the addition of an NHL team shortly after the Kraken announced their name and logo.
“I think it is going to promote hockey all over Washington, especially in the youth,” Thunderbird forward MeKai Sanders, who is from Gig Harbor, told 710 ESPN Seattle. “Being from Washington myself, I am super excited to have a local NHL team to root for.”
Said defenseman Cade McNelly: “Judging by the City of Seattle, there will be so much support from the city for this team. All in all, I’m pretty pumped and excited that Seattle officially has an NHL team and it’s something we can look forward to for hockey being great here.”
The Everett Silvertips are a member of the U.S. Division of the Western Conference of the Western Hockey League. Evertt was awarded conditional approval for an expansion franchise in 2021.
The team joined the WHL for the 2003-04 season and broke a number of junior hockey team records for an expansion team in its first year.
The Silvertips, who play at Angel of the Winds Arena, twice played for WHL titles. They lost the championship series to Medicine Hat (4-0) in 2003-04 and Swift Current (4-2) in 2017-18.
Former Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson told Q13 Fox in August 2020 that the addition of the Kraken would be “a great scenario of everyone involved in hockey.”
“We’re gonna see more ice surfaces develop,” Davison said. “More players develop. So I think it’s just a win-win for everybody.”