Since Chris Hansen and Co. made their plans known to secure an NBA franchise for Seattle and build a state-of-the-art arena in Sodo, the passion from Sonics fans has been inspiring. Sports fans in our region have been able to imagine bridging the gap between football seasons with something more than another 75-win campaign from our beloved-but-beleaguered Mariners.
But recently, with the news Seattle is poised as a backup plan for the fledgling Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL, my own imagination started wandering.
News of Seattle being in-play for a relocated NHL franchise is nothing new. It was part of the plan for the new Sodo arena all along. Most believed with our city’s decades-long history with the NBA and a pipeline of local talent and current NBA stars would make more sense for it to return first. But as the Stanley Cup Final has evolved (after a third overtime game in four games this series, Chicago tied things at 2-2 with a win over Boston on Wednesday) and caught my eye, the more sense hockey makes.
It is no secret football is the King of our local sports scene.
The Seahawks have such loyal fan support it has become part of their brand, as The 12th Man has been interwoven in the fabric of the team. Long before Largent, Holmgren and Beast Mode, the Washington Huskies had already planted the seed of the gridiron in the public psyche and even through their most downtrodden years have been an example of the love we have for football.
When the season ends, most football fans are left in a malaise – disenchanted by the comparably finesse world of basketball and with nothing to look forward to but a baseball diamond rife with mitigated failure.
But were the NHL to make a new home for itself in our Emerald City, that post-fall picture would look much different.
The most obvious element separating football from other team sports is the physicality. Even amidst a changing sports climate where head injuries are increasingly scrutinized, it is the collisions many football fans eagerly await.
In hockey, they would find a kindred spirit.
On the ice, there is certainly no shortage of bone-jarring checks and in some ways, hockey can fulfill some of what football fans have lost with recent rules changes in college and the pros.
Remember the days when breathing on a pass catcher wasn’t enough to elicit a penalty?
It is understandable if you don’t, since the league has slanted rules so much in favor of high-powered offense.
The NHL had to do some of the same after a pair of labor disputes had fans tuning out, but while they have certainly opened up the game and reduced the ability to muck up play, the general premise of contact has not been sacrificed.
And the contact-nature of the game is only one of the reasons it would resonate here.
Few players exhibit more passion than those in the NHL, where the pain of slamming bodies meets the grind of an elongated schedule (82 games in a regular season), and the character of the game, complete with “playoff beards” and caps tossed on the ice for a hat trick, would be a welcome break from the norm. Of course, we aren’t completely devoid of on-ice exploits in our corner of the world.
The Seattle Thunderbirds have a history in the city and more recently Everett’s Silvertips have taken hold in the north. Only a smattering of local youth take part in the sport, but they would be perfectly situated as our resident know-it-all fans as soon as the first puck dropped. And of course, Seattle was the first to have its name engraved on Lord Stanley’s Cup, winning the title in 1917.
As one of the fastest growing regions of the country, and with more development seemingly always in the works, our winters will soon enough be filled with one professional sport or another. Here’s to hoping it includes some hitting.
Josh Suman can be contacted at 425-453-5045 or firstname.lastname@example.org