Hockey organist Ben Wooley has a front-row seat to appreciate the differences in the Kraken’s game-day setup at Climate Pledge Arena now compared with a year ago.

At age 29, the native of Oswego, Illinois, is replacing a 1970s hockey movie legend in Rod Masters of “Slap Shot” fame. He has retired to Arizona after performing at sporadic Kraken games last season.

On Saturday night, when the Kraken play their home opener against the Vegas Golden Knights, Wooley — performing under the stage name “Benny Drawbars” — will be among the most visible additions to the Kraken’s revamped in-game entertainment on a newly designated platform in the Amex Hall section beneath Climate Pledge’s north end cathedral windows.

Of utmost importance, he’s had time to acclimate to his new work surroundings for what will be a full 41-game gig by attending preseason games and a dress rehearsal Wednesday. A year ago, the team didn’t gain access to the under-construction arena for such a rehearsal until the day before the Kraken’s regular-season opener.

“One of the nice things about the place in the world we’re in right now is we can be a little more out in the crowd and mixed in to it,” Wooley said of the removal of pandemic-era arena restrictions that hampered the October 2021 launch, when an organist wasn’t implemented until months later and somewhat haphazardly. “The main thing is that last year, Rod [Masters] was up in the press box, and it’s just a little bit further away. But this year I’ll be in the action so people will be able to see me at work, playing tunes.”

Those tunes are played on the digital version of a Hammond SK-X Pro organ, a 40-pound, compact instrument that makes for easy setup and removal given Climate Pledge plays host to numerous events beyond hockey. Having the chance to fine-tune the setup in advance is a gift that Kraken vice president of live entertainment Lamont Buford doesn’t take for granted.

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“We are in a much better place this year,” Buford said.

That place involves a music-focused in-game lineup that includes Wooley, a bevy of in-residence local bands, anthem singers Madison Stoneman and Tommie Burton plus a newly added 32-member marching band. That band, Red Alert, is led by local teacher Liz Harris Scruggs and will play at pregame festivities at the Seattle Center Armory, then lead them on a march-like procession to the Climate Pledge entrance, similar to Sounders supporters in their pregame March to the Match.

Another borrowed event will be a “Hoist the Colors” moment late in the second intermission — akin to the Seahawks’ 12 Flag Raisers — in which a season-ticket holder or celebrity will crank up a giant flag meant to rally the Kraken for the third period. Seattle-based band Odesza will be a part of the flag raising.

The incorporation of Seahawks and Sounders themes isn’t surprising given Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke served as president of both and remains part-owner of the soccer team. But Buford also said it’s part of the Kraken’s effort to incorporate more of a “PNW vibe” into everything the team does.

That will be evident in the presenting of an “extraordinary hero” from the local community each game, who will be given $32,000 by Kraken ownership and Starbucks to present to the nonprofit of their choice. A “50/50” raffle — common at hockey games at all levels — is also being implemented. Half the prize pool goes to the winning-ticket purchaser and the other half to the team’s One Roof Foundation charity arm.

Beyond that, Buford said fans will notice local themes in a shortened, revamped pregame player introduction. The voice of former KING 5 reporter Chris Daniels, now with Sinclair Broadcasting, will no longer be heard during the introductory video.

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But local fans will have a voice.

“The narrative of the opening is combining our fans heeding the call,” Buford said. “So they’re calling the Kraken. You’ll see in the opening that it’s a wild journey that it goes through with our players and the spirit of the beast — because we never show the Kraken, only the tentacle. So it will be a very cinematic piece that fans will see. And the tentacle will be used a little bit differently.”

“The Tentacle” is a 26-foot-tall, 1,200-pound prop lowered from the rafters before each game and took additional months to set up last season because of shipping delays and engineering struggles maneuvering it. Its long-awaited debut seemed clumsy at times, and the Kraken have pondered ways to improve how it’s used.

“It still descends from the roof, but we’ll kind of bring it down in a different way this year,” Buford said.

The postgame will differ as well, with the Kraken switching the version of stuffed toy salmon tossed by players after home victories from a Sockeye to an Alaska pink salmon. “There are five different species of salmon and our goal every year is to change up the fish,” Buford said. 

Buford’s job differs as well, since he’s now running things after former boss Jonny Greco — imported from the Golden Knights — left the team. But Buford was part of last season’s planning and said the difference is night and day.

“Having the arena ready has been huge,” Buford said. “Having a little time to know the environment was huge for us. This wasn’t a typical sports offseason. We knew that there were some things we wanted to improve, so we spent a lot of time and effort after our listening sessions with fans truly putting together a ton of plans for all of game day.”

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And organist Wooley is glad they did. Son of an avid jazz enthusiast, he graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in mechanical engineering and minor in music in 2015, moving to Seattle that year after taking a job repairing pipe organs.

He quickly joined the Sounders’ marching band, Sound Wave, and had badgered the Kraken since 2020 hoping to become their organist. 

“I think they were very busy trying to get the first season off the ground,” he said. “But through friends, I met some folks that worked for the team and they said ‘Yeah, keep trying, send some stuff along.’ ”

And now that the Kraken have caught their breath and know more of what they want, he’ll be helping them keep trying to get it right.