Seattle Thunderbirds president Colin Campbell became the designated point-man the Kraken kept returning to the past two months as it became apparent Climate Pledge Arena might not be ready in time to host preseason NHL home games.
Campbell’s fellow executives from the Everett Silvertips, Spokane Chiefs, Tri-City Americans and Portland Winterhawks — comprising the Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division — had tasked him with brokering the deal announced Friday that will see the Kraken play all three of its preseason home games at WHL venues.
The Kraken announced a six-game preseason schedule with an inaugural home contest Sept. 26 at Spokane Veterans Memorial Coliseum against the Vancouver Canucks, followed by games Oct. 1 at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett against the Edmonton Oilers and Oct. 2 at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent versus the Calgary Flames.
The Kraken is also planning to begin the regular season playing up to three regular-season road games before a Climate Pledge Arena debut sometime toward the end of the third week in October. For now, the forced move to WHL locales for preseason contests enables the Kraken to showcase itself throughout the region and state and was readily welcomed by the host teams.
“The idea that we want to build the foundation that we’ve got syncs up with what they want to do as far as growing youth hockey in the area and all kinds of things,” Campbell said. “But this wasn’t really going to be something until they knew the building was going to be running a little bit late. So, it got floated out a little while ago but it didn’t get buttoned up until really the last week-and-a-half or so.”
Campbell said it was last week the Kraken first proposed donating a portion of ticket revenue to its One Roof Foundation philanthropic arm with a goal of raising more than $500,000 to expand youth access to hockey. The Kraken is also giving all five WHL teams an allotment of 500 tickets apiece that they can combine for sale within partial season-ticket packages to their own games.
“So, we’re able to kind of leverage the opportunity to increase awareness of us and reach the markets that we’re in,” Campbell said. “So, we’re excited for what the opportunity is and can use it to kick off our season as well, too, because our home opener is the following weekend.”
Kraken season-ticket holders with preseason games included in their packages will be offered account credits. Tickets to the preseason games are being sold by the WHL teams; with early presale opportunities for their own season-ticket holders followed by a general public sale July 16 at noon on angelofthewindsarena.com for Everett, seattlethunderbirds.com for Kent and ticketswest.com for Spokane.
The Kraken’s three preseason road games are Sept. 28 at Edmonton, Sept. 29 at Calgary and Oct. 5 at Vancouver.
Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke said Climate Pledge Arena remains “on track” to finish its more than $1 billion renovation in time to host games just after mid-October and following an anticipated Oct. 12 league start date. Leiweke said in an interview the team will play two or three road games before its home debut.
“We’re in good shape with that,” he said.
The New York Islanders have announced they expect to play the first month of the season on the road as their new arena on Long Island — developed by the same Oak View Group (OVG) company handling the Climate Pledge Arena renovation — is completed.
Leiweke said crews of 1,000 workers a day are racing to complete the Kraken’s venue amid challenges that have included global supply chain slowdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said playing the preseason games in WHL venues should help those teams after they were hit hard by the early cancellation of the 2019-20 season and their abbreviated 24-game schedule without fans this winter due to pandemic concerns.
“There’s something about this plan that we love, which is giving back and growing the game,” Leiweke said. “These teams have been hit hard, so anything we can do to help. The big litmus test of everything we’re doing is going to be in five or 10 years, seeing how these junior teams are doing.”
Campbell said he hopes to get a capacity crowd of just under 6,300 for the Kent games. Most WHL arenas operate with near identical player safety infrastructure compared with NHL venues, though Campbell said his arena is installing a softer plastic cap covering for its rink boards to bring them up to standard.
Silvertips chief operating officer Zoran Rajcic said the Everett venue had already put the “soft-cap boards” in nearly two years ago, something all WHL clubs are moving toward within the next season or two. Rajcic said OVG and Climate Pledge Arena officials had visited the Everett facility during recent Storm WNBA games to prepare for when that team moves to the bigger arena.
Rajcic, who hopes for a capacity crowd of just under 8,300, said Kraken ticket operations staffers dropped by the arena Thursday to check out “the logistical back end of things” to ensure enough seats are allocated for television personnel, medical staff and other NHL requirements. He said the Silvertips had a lone meeting with NHL special operations personnel to run through a checklist of arena infrastructure and no obstacles came up.
“We in the WHL try to emulate the NHL as much as possible,” he said.
Rajcic said he was impressed by how the Kraken’s proposal developed beyond a revenue-generating opportunity for the NHL and WHL teams.
“Our whole thing was, we can sell the tickets and it can be a revenue-driven thing,” he said. “But how do we improve the visibility for hockey and junior hockey? That was the messaging from our standpoint. And then secondarily, is there a way to help our youth hockey partners in our various regions?
‘It’s going to be interesting and it should be a lot of fun.”