A Brief Overview of Seattle Hockey History

A Brief Overview of Seattle Hockey History

November 02, 2021

In 2021, Seattle’s first NHL team took the ice. Despite that fact, it may surprise you to know that the city has already won the Stanley Cup. They were the first American team to do so.

Welcome to the strange, winding history of hockey in Seattle. Seattle has a rich and multi-chaptered relationship with the ice for a city that only recently joined the major professional league. Just because it took a hundred years to get the NHL jersey doesn’t mean that this city is full of hockey amateurs. The sport has been played in Seattle to the passion and fervor of its inhabitants for well over a century. Now, as a new era begins, it’s looking to secure its second Stanley Cup.

More on that later. First, let’s go all the way back to 1915.

The Seattle Metropolitans 

The Seattle Metropolitans were the first professional hockey league entry from the Emerald City. They played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, which formed in 1912. The league was the design of Frank and Lester Patrick, professional hockey players from Montreal who had moved to Vancouver to run their family lumber business.

By 1915, the Mets were the league’s second American team, competing against Vancouver, Victoria, and Portland squads. An indoor arena was built to host the Mets, as they came to be known, called the Seattle Arena, located downtown, east University Street. Pete Muldoon, yes, that Pete Muldoon of the curse of the Chicago Black Hawks, was selected to coach.

Early Success 

By 1915, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association was eligible to compete for the annual Stanley Cup, previously an honor saved for Canadian teams. In their first season, the Mets put up a respectable record. Muldoon’s roster included several soon-to-be hall of famers, including Frank Foyston and Jack Walker, and goaltender Harry Holmes. They went 9-9 and tied for second place in the league. Games in Seattle drew regular crowds and it wasn’t long before the team had a dependable fan base. Hockey fever was on the rise in Seattle.

Incredibly, the team got their first shot at the Stanley Cup in 1917. By then the Mets had improved to a 16-8 record and had made a name for themselves competing against both PCHA and NHA teams. They clinched the cup in four games, beating the Montreal Canadiens, including the legendary goalkeeper Georges Vezina, scoring nine goals off him in their final match. Crowds packed into the Seattle Ice Arena to watch and celebrate the city’s first championship hockey win.

The next day the Seattle Times said, “The lexicon of sport does not contain language adequate to describe the fervor of the fans who saw Seattle triumph last night.”

Seattle wasn’t just on the hockey map. It was at the center of it.

The Fold 

Every high must have it’s low, and for the Seattle Metropolitans, that came swiftly. In fact, just two years later, the Mets would have another shot at the Stanley Cup, but the championship would be canceled after four Montreal players fell victim to the Spanish Flu epidemic.

In 1920 the franchise had its lost shot at the Stanley Cup and fell to the Ottawa Senators. By 1924 the team folded, and the Seattle Ice Arena was converted into a parking lot. Still, the passion for hockey had been lit within the city, and for almost a hundred years, it hasn’t gone out.

The Patrick brothers tried to bring hockey back to Seattle with the short-lived Pacific Coast Hockey League. In fact, they even managed to bring back Pete Muldoon after he abruptly left the Black Hawks and inadvertently (depending on who you ask) put a curse on the city of Chicago. The Seattle Eskimos played for only three seasons and packed up shop in 1931. Muldoon sadly died of a heart attack before they played their first game.

The Seattle Sea Hawks

For two short years, Seattle was without a professional hockey team. That changed in 1933 when the Seattle Sea Hawks — not those Seattle Sea Hawks — joined the Northwest Hockey League.

The Flash 

The team had legacy on its side, hiring Frank “The Flash” Foyston to coach, a former Mets player who brought the team to a championship in their first season. Bizarrely, though the team performed well, the Flash was abruptly fired. That is until the following season when the Sea Hawks lost seven of ten games. Then The Flash was brought back and led the team to its first championship win. Sea Hawks owner Phil Lycette was known to be a strange fellow, always wheeling and dealing with contracts.

The Olympics 

The Sea Hawks would reach the championship six times but failed to capture the trophy again. In 1940 they were renamed the Olympics, but the team did not survive another season. By 1941 the Olympics were no more — the PCHL folded, abandoning them — and another chapter in Seattle’s hockey history was closed.

The Seattle Totems

The PCHL’s trip to the history books didn’t last long. The league was revived in 1944 and debuted with an impressive number of teams with squads from Portland, Oakland, Vancouver, Seattle, and even Los Angeles suiting up.

A Team of Many Names 

The Seattle Totems began their life with another name. In fact, several other names. The team was originally deemed the Seattle Ironmen. In 1952 they became the Seattle Bombers, following the PCHL’s own name change to the Western Hockey League. Just three years later, they became the Seattle Americans. Finally, in 1958, the Seattle Totems were born.

Throughout all of these name changes, the Totems played impressively. In the 1956-1957 season, breakout star Guyle Fielder broke the record for point scoring in one season with 122 points. Legends of professional hockey spent some time on the Totems bench, including Marc Boileau, Gerry Leonard, Bill MacFarland, Jim Powers, Gordie Sinclair, and Tom McVie. The Totems were a mainstay in the playoffs.

The Soviets 

The team also made history in 1972 when it became the first American team to host and play the Soviet national team. The match was played on Christmas night, drawing a crowd of 12,367 to the Seattle Center Coliseum. If the Cold War was looming over the arena that night, you’d never know it. The teams exchanged flowers and goodwill. While the Soviets defeated the Totems in a nailbiter, 5-4, the relationship between the two hockey teams and the people of Seattle was strengthened by sportsmanship.

Boris Kulagin, coach of the Soviet team, had nice things to say about Seattle, “We like the attitude of the crowd.”

In 1973, the Totems had a second chance, defeating first the Czech team and then the Soviets. At the time, hockey was igniting across the greater Seattle area and the writing seemed to be on the wall for the city to get its first NHL team.

The Deal 

Seattle was quickly becoming a successful sports city. The SuperSonics had just joined the NBA, the Sea Hawks — now the football team — were granted the go-ahead to start playing in 1976. It seemed only a matter of time for the NHL to roll through town.

In fact, it was even publicly announced. In 1974, the headline from the New York Times read, “N.H.L. Gives Franchises To Denver, Seattle for '76.” The deal was effectively done… until it wasn’t. Following the closure of the Western Hockey League, the Totems began to play in the Central Hockey League, effectively waiting out the arrival of the NHL.

What became clear soon after that was that while the city loved hockey, the organization didn’t have the money to make the team financially viable and competitive in the big league. The Totems folded in 1975, the NHL withdrew its offer, and Seattle was left without a hockey team. The city even sued the NHL, resulting in a years-long court case that the league ultimately won.

The Seattle Thunderbirds

For a while, Seattleites would have to settle for minor league teams, and that’s exactly what they did from 1977 on. The Seattle Thunderbirds moved from Vancouver, where they played as the Nats. They were known as the Seattle Breakers for seven seasons and changed to the birds in 1985, following a sale to new owners.

The Thunderbirds have introduced some hockey legends in the Western Hockey League, including Patrick Marleau, Chris Osgood, and Shea Theodore.

Despite their many years of play, the Thunderbirds have only won the Ed Chynoweth Cup in 2017. It came after an overtime win against the Regina Pats in Game Six. One hundred years earlier, the Mets first hoisted up the Stanley Cup. And while the Chynoweth is no Stanley, it’s still pretty good if you ask us.

The Thunderbirds still play today in the accesso ShoWare Center and regularly produce professional players.

The Seattle Kraken 

All that history brings us to today. Are you a little winded? Can’t blame you. The road to Seattle’s first professional team was long and winding but now it’s finally here. In 2018, the NHL announced an expansion franchise for Emerald City to begin play in 2021.

A New Era 

As soon as that announcement was made, the city had a curious question to answer: what would their team be called? The Metropolitans was an option, but the NHL pushed back because of its existing Metropolitan Division. So the Mets were out. From there, the marketing department of the new team decided to put it in the hands of the city. They actively monitored social media and local newspaper polls and started to notice a strong show of support around the ‘Kraken.’

Jerry Bruckheimer, filmmaker and part-owner, and Adidas collaborated to create the branding and jerseys, a mix of electric blue and navy blue, reflecting the city’s scenic landscape. 

The Kraken play at the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle and, on October 27, 2021, achieved their first win at home against the Montreal Canadiens. There’s plenty of time to find out if the city really has “released the Kraken,” but for now, we’re just excited that pro-hockey is finally back in Seattle.

Seattle’s Long Hockey History 

From the Mets to the Totems to the Kraken, Seattle fans have placed their love for hockey behind many teams. We’re hopeful that this new era sticks around a little longer than the last few and that it won’t be another hundred years before the city takes home another Stanley Cup. Only time will tell.

Sources:

History | Seattle Metropolitans

Seattle Hockey History: From Metropolitans to NHL Expansion | Arena Digest

Seattle Seahawks, Hockey's Version | Nitzy’s Hockey Den

Totems vs. USSR | Seattle Totems

N.H.L. Gives Franchises To Denver, Seattle for '76 | New York Times

How Seattle's NHL team became the Kraken | ESPN

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