By Khalid Bennett
The Seattle Medium
In 2008 the NBA left the city of Seattle. The league determined that the iconic arena at the Seattle Center that provided a home for our team was no longer adequate for NBA basketball and efforts to have a new, publicly funded building fell short of the votes needed to even break ground. Ever since then, a void that has yet to be filled, casts a dark cloud over the city during the winter months in a town where many can remember the “magic carpet ride” Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton took us on in the 90’s.
In 2022, the NBA has yet to return, and like many other historic and iconic landmarks, what once was a celebrated entity that brought Seattle sports fans closer to each other, ended up becoming a fading memory as the years passed. Without a major sports presence or a “Fun Forest” for the kids, the Seattle Center was quickly losing its identity, purpose, and its longstanding cultural and economic benefits to the city.
It has been many years since I have visited the Seattle Center. My source for many great memories at the Seattle Center, particularly the Seattle Center Arena, stem from the heyday of the Seattle Supersonics – a team that while no longer here still holds a special place in the hearts of Seattle sports fans.
In Comes Climate Pledge Arena
If you are like me, you, like many other local sports fans, casually followed the awarding of an NHL hockey team to Seattle, and the subsequent building of Climate Pledge Arena. This year marked the inaugural season of the Seattle Kraken, Seattle’s first NHL hockey team and the city’s newest addition to its lineup of sports teams.
While I am a longtime sports fan with a strong leaning towards basketball and football, my desire, especially as a Black man, to watch pro hockey was lukewarm at best. But after witnessing a few Kraken games in person, my competitive nature and desire to understand more about such a unique sport sparked my interest.
The pace of the game is extremely fast. The speed of the game is the first thing that jumps out and it is something that gets overlooked when watching a game on TV. The game features 5-on-5 action with two goaltenders unless someone is called for a penalty, the offender spends between 2-5 minutes, depending on the foul, in the penalty box giving the opposing team a “man advantage.”
The puck-play and stick handling is unbelievable at the NHL level. The speed and grace displayed by the players is a marvel in itself. Of course, the hits are fierce but also controlled. People are always going to associate violence with the game of hockey because it is the only pro sport that is not a combat sport where the players can fight. Although fights can be exciting and crowd pleasing, they can be detrimental if it involves the team’s top players as it will lead to a five-minute stint in the penalty box.
Hockey has a sound. This maybe the single most notable aspect that cannot be replicated or duplicated through a television screen. The skates carving on the ice, the puck going from stick to stick, bodies banging against the boards, the smack of a shot off the post or even off a goalkeeper’s mask or blocker. Every distinctive sound comes across like the notes played on a piano or an organ that immerses the fans into the full hockey experience.
While the game of hockey is exciting on its own, the fan experience for a Kraken game is uniquely elevated at Climate Pledge Arena – a state-of-the-art building that is dedicated to reducing the carbon footprint normally produced by large arenas.
The arena, which also is home to the Seattle Storm and Seattle University basketball programs, has a “rain to ice” system that repurposes rainwater to produce the ice for the actual playing surface for every home game. Even with this environmental breakthrough, you’d only scratch the surface of what goes into a night of Kraken hockey.
According to Lamont Buford, director of entertainment for the Seattle Kraken, “it can take anywhere from 10 to 70 people to pull off a Seattle Kraken production.” Even before the actual NHL hockey experience, Buford and his crew set the tone for the evening, as they coordinate artists, bands, and other local talent for the pre-game, intermission, and post-game festivities and give each Kraken game more of the feeling of an epic event than a game.
“Our goal is to entertain, excite, and send people home enthused and riled up the entire night,” says Buford.
Everything from the entertainment to the food options, to the team introductions gives each fan more than just a hockey experience. So, what is the “Kraken experience?”
The Kraken game experience begins in the pregame as live music and entertainment greets you as you walk into the arena. The ice sits deep in the building so you are already on the upper level coming through the gate. A Kraken game can hold just over 17,000 fans and there is not a bad seat or obstructed view from anywhere in the building.
Shaq’s Big Chicken is just one of the many vending options to enjoy before or during the game. The players come out for a 15-minute warm up session as the music from DJ Trunks fills the air, pumping up the home crowd. DJ Trunks can also be caught in the Verizon Lounge down on the lower level of the arena for post-game entertainment as well.
If you know anything about hockey, you cannot have a hockey game without an organ player and the Seattle Kraken have employed one of the best. Rod Masters, the organ player from the iconic hockey movie Slapshot, provides his own masterful flare with the organ that is the very sound of hockey.
Movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer is a team owner, and his presence is definitely felt during the team’s introduction which feels like a blockbuster action flick. The design of the arena, the location of the rink, and the theme of the team’s mascot all add to the experience as each visiting opponent is hostilely welcomed to “the deep.”
The intro begins as you hear the lights in the stadium get “switched off’ and fans are immersed in the illusion of being plunged into the depths of the Puget Sound as the opponent’s logo is swept under the current of the water as it falls with you to the bottom of the Sound. This sets the stage as the fierce reptilian eyeball of the Kraken, which spans hundreds of feet across one end of the arena, opens and locks in on the opponent’s logo and smashes it with one of its tentacle just minutes before the puck drops to begin the game. The experience and excitement is like no other and if you weren’t ready for hockey before the scene played out you will be by the time it is over.
Overall, die-hard hockey fans, casuals, as well as new fans will enjoy themselves and the arena even if the Seattle Kraken don’t end up in the win column at the end of the night. There are not many sports that can hold your attention for 20 minutes straight. 18-minute intermissions, of which there are two during a hockey game, should give you a reasonable amount of time to use the restroom, grab a bite to eat and drink, and get back to your seat in time for the next face off. If you go into Kraken game with any sort of expectations, the experience will completely shatter them.
Hopefully, Buford and his crew will be involved with other productions that take place at Climate Pledge Arena, as the hockey experience has me very excited about what they can do if the NBA returns to Seattle. But for now, Buford and his team are happy to focus their energy and talents on creating a dynamic fan experience for the Seattle Kraken.
“We are excited for whatever comes down the line for NBA basketball,” say Buford, when questioned about the possibility of Seattle having an NBA team playing at Climate Pledge Arena. “Right now, our main focus is just Kraken hockey.”
NHL hockey is truly a unique experience and cannot be compared to the NBA, WNBA, NFL or MLS experience. For those who intend to attend games in the 2022/23 season, dress warm and get ready for the intensity and excitement that NHL hockey brings on 41 nights in the brand-new Climate Pledge Arena. The Kraken were recently awarded the #4 pick in the NHL draft lottery, and with the pick of Matty Beniers in last year’s draft, the Kraken are looking to build a winner on-the-ice to coincide with the excellent off-the-ice experience. You will not be disappointed. Welcome the 32nd team to the National Hockey League…your Seattle Kraken!
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