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With new arena and NHL bid, Seattle is poised to become a hockey hotbed

Now that a Seattle-based ownership team has officially filed paperwork with the National Hockey League — along with a $10 million application fee — everything seems to be in place for an NHL expansion team in Seattle. Ground is set to be broken on a new arena at Seattle Center in the fall, with plans to have that team on the ice in two years. The NHL’s arrival will bring some exciting changes to our region immediately.

“It’s the greatest game. It’s the fastest game on ice!” says Doug Kirton, a former professional player and Director of Player Development for the Sno-King Amateur Hockey Association.

The NHL’s pending arrival has sent shockwaves through the local hockey community.

“I would be really excited. I would want to go to every game.” says Jojo Levin, a 10-year-old girl who plays goalie for Sno-King’s elite U-10 team.

Oak View Group has recently hired Steve Mattson, a 27-year industry veteran, to oversee an extensive remodel of KeyArena. “I think it’s going to blow people away. I think the response will be amazing.” Mattson says.

Mattson comes to Seattle from Minneapolis, where he most recently headed a remodel of Target Center, home of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. Minneapolis is a hockey town. Seattle isn’t quite there…yet. But hockey has been in Seattle’s DNA for over a century. In 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans became the first U.S.-based team to win the Stanley Cup—the NHL’s Holy Grail-- defeating the Montreal Canadiens. The Cup returned to Seattle for a sort of victory lap at various rinks around town shortly after the NHL announced it would accept Seattle’s expansion bid. And this is part of Oak View Group’s plan: re-introduce Seattle fans to the game, help them understand it, and embrace it.

“You have to build a fan from all ages.” Mattson says.

The youngest hockey fans are already sold.

“My dad said we would probably buy season tickets for the team.” Says Will Stillwell, a 10-year old hockey player, behind his wire-caged helmet. Will is one of 800 players in the Sno King association, one of five successful programs currently operating in Western Washington.

“We've been here for 53 years , and hockey is big here, maybe not as big as other sports, but we are entrenched in the local sports scene and with the arrival of the NHL we will definitely grow.” Kirton says of Sno-King.

Oak View Group plans to grow the game by creating partnerships with Seattle-area youth hockey programs, and build more ice facilities, to accommodate the sport’s blossoming popularity.

“Right off , they are going to have to build a practice facility for the team. So you will immediately see some opportunities for kids to be able to play the game.” Says Seattle Thunderbirds General Manager Colin Campbell.

Local fans celebrated a hockey title last year, when the Thunderbirds won the Western Hockey League championship, the first in the franchise’s 41-year history. The team was originally based in Seattle, but now calls Kent’s Showare Center home. Some fans have expressed concern that the arrival of the NHL would hurt the local WHL franchises, but both the Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips say that they have built strong fanbases in their communities, which will allow them to continue to thrive.

“Our Fanbase is a little younger”, Campbell says. “We go after the young kids, youth sports, that sort of thing. So, it's sort of becomes a stepping stone and the NHL ticket prices are a lot higher than ours.”

Campbell isn’t kidding about the ticket prices, either. Single game tickets for a Thunderbirds game top out at about 55 bucks. A ticket for the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, for example, can run as high as $4-500.