Inside the NHL
Andy Cole has spent 20 years navigating adult recreational hockey ice time shortages and quirky, late-night scheduling.
The Connecticut-raised owner and founder of the Greater Seattle Hockey League (GSHL), featuring more than 100 teams and 2,000 players ages 18 and over, had longed for some added ice sheets to go with the seven he already uses locally. And on Tuesday Cole got some: The Kraken announced a slew of youth and adult hockey initiatives that will see it partner with the GSHL to add games at the NHL squad’s soon-to-open, $80 million Northgate Mall training facility.
Though it might not change the typical post-bedtime playing hours for which adult hockey leagues are famous, having three additional ice sheets at Northgate added to the GSHL mix should ease some stress for players pursuing their favorite sport.
“It makes everything better,” Cole said. “It’s going to make ice time better, drive times better, scheduling games more flexible.
“Beforehand there were times when I was sending players from Everett all the way down to Kent to play games,” he said. “Now I can kind of make Northgate the hub, and then the guy from Everett doesn’t have to go to Kent, and the guy from Kent doesn’t have to go to Everett. They can just meet in the middle.”
It isn’t only “guys” the new Kraken partnerships should benefit. The Western Washington Wild Female Hockey Association, which runs all-girls and women’s teams at all ages, has agreed to host games at the NHL training facility as well.
The Washington Wild teams will continue under that brand and keep playing at other arenas in the region, but the Northgate facility will become their hub location.
Finally, the Kraken has applied to the Pacific Northwest Amateur Hockey Association for youth hockey membership in this state. That will enable the team to launch an official youth hockey program this spring, similar to the Los Angeles Jr. Kings, Nashville Jr. Predators and Arizona Jr. Coyotes.
Unlike more-established programs, which can run through to late-teen junior hockey levels, the one here would begin small with basic Learn to Skate and Learn to Play activities, and the goal of forming some beginner-age youth teams to compete in the Metropolitan Hockey League within a year or two.
“Our initial focus is going to be around getting kids in the game,” said Rob Lampman, a Kraken vice president hired last fall to manage events at the Northgate facility. “We’re not going to create a full (development) funnel in Year 1.”
That said, Lampman hopes to announce a coaching staff for that youth program by spring. Not to mention — eye rolls, please — a name for it.
Seattle Jr. Kraken? This choice probably won’t require a fan vote or group of consulting firms.
Lampman said the name is a work in progress, though he granted that there’s a distinctive pattern to the youth program name choices in other NHL markets. Whatever the name is, the program will almost certainly incorporate Kraken branding in various forms and make it an obvious draw for young players.
And — dare we say it — cause some competition with other youth programs that aren’t Kraken-branded? Such a scenario might have seemed a dream years ago, when hockey was struggling to get on the map locally.
And it’s not as if a local amateur organization such as Eastside-based Sno-King, which opened its new arena in Snoqualmie last year, is struggling for popularity among younger players. In fact, Sno-King has sometimes been forced to turn players away because it lacked the capacity to handle the growth surge in local youth hockey that has become even stronger as the Kraken’s debut nears.
Still, it isn’t tough to envision a scenario in which kids eventually will want to play for the Kraken-themed teams first and everyone else second. Again, that’s a problem most hockey officials in this area would have loved to worry about a decade ago.
“It’s an ongoing challenge,” Lampman said of avoiding butting heads with other youth programs. “There has to be constant communication between ourselves and all of those other associations. But I think all parties are aligned, and when you look at this three to five years out it’s going to be a better situation for everyone.”
For now, the Kraken goal remains growing interest in the game at all levels and ages, figuring the new players of today can become NHL ticket purchasers and ROOT Sports TV watchers tomorrow. Despite a mishap last month in which a separate construction crew demolishing the adjacent Nordstrom building dropped debris on the Kraken’s practice venue — damaging a wall on its western side — Lampman said the venue remains on schedule to open player and team facilities in mid-July and remaining public spaces come September.
The post-Labor Day period is also when the Kraken plans to launch its youth program and begin allowing access to adult recreational players.
Cole, whose adult hockey league offers 16 divisions of varying skill levels from beginners to ex-pros, said his players will keep their existing uniforms and not be donning any Kraken-related gear under the partnership.
But he does envision some “really cool events” with the Kraken still in the formative stages that could materialize. Not to mention, his players will get to use the same venue as NHL players.
“My whole league is just buzzing about the Kraken and can’t wait for the team to start playing,” Cole said. “So to have this association with the team will be just a really cool thing for a lot of them.”