Matt Calkins: 'We live for hockey': Climate Pledge Arena fans show they are committed to Kraken on opening night

Matt Calkins, The Seattle Times on

Published in Hockey

For a minute, it seemed as though those cheers might last clear through the intermission. The crowd at Climate Pledge Arena had been waiting 19 minutes and 57 seconds for it, the city of Seattle a whole lot longer.

When defenseman Vince Dunn scored with 4.6 seconds left in the first period, he authored the latest — and one of the loudest — pages in Seattle sports history: the first Kraken goal at its sparkling new home.

That was the moment everything surrounding this team and arena had been building toward. That was the moment the project finally felt complete. That was the moment the NHL had truly arrived in Seattle.

"It's just surreal," longtime hockey fan Alex Erler said from the lower concourse of Climate Pledge Arena. "That's the word for it."

Saturday's home opener, a 4-2 loss to Vancouver, was the culmination of years of stress, struggles and strife. There were polarizing debates about where Seattle should build a new arena. And after the Oak View Group won the bid to renovate KeyArena, the budget soared from $650 million to over $1.1 billion.

There were construction delays. There was the chaos of COVID-19. There was an endless supply of obstacles. But as Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke said during the pregame ceremonies: "We did it!"

You have to think most people in the Climate Pledge Arena had been anticipating this moment for years. Long before the arena was built, season tickets for the Kraken sold out within minutes of going on sale.

The fans on hand Saturday were particularly committed to their new NHL team. The average cost of a ticket was $601, according to ESPN during its broadcast. That's the highest average ticket price for any sports event in the city since 2010 — and that includes two NFC Championship Games for the Seahawks. There is no indication this is a casual fan base.

The sustainability of the fervor will depend largely on whether the Kraken stays competitive. But for now, Seattle feels like a legitimate hockey town.

"We live for hockey. We've been waiting for hockey for so long," fan JF Desagne said. "It's in our blood."

It felt like it Saturday. The noise rarely let up. There were eruptions when the Kraken scored or goalie Philipp Grubauer made a spectacular save. There were passionate boos for the officials when the crowd felt like they had made an errant call. And the stars were in the building.


Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife Ciara were greeted with thunderous cheers when they were shown on the big screen. Fellow Seahawks Bobby Wagner and DK Metcalf received similar treatment, as did Storm star Sue Bird and rapper Macklemore. Former Sonic Gary Payton made a video appearance trying to hype the crowd. Former Seahawk Marshawn Lynch also appeared on screen. The city and its most visible faces are all-in on this club.

Unfortunately, the Kraken couldn't deliver the result fans wanted. Mark Giordano put the team up 2-1 five minutes into the third period, but the Canucks scored three more goals in the next 14 minutes and ended up winning 3-2. It marks a trend for the Kraken, which has struggled in the third is now 1-4-1 this season.

"It's disappointing. It's a really tough league to not keep the gas on for 60 minutes," Dunn said. "A lot of these games we've given ourselves a chance to win, but it's not good enough."

There were no guarantees that the Kraken was going to endure serious growing pains in its inaugural season. The Las Vegas Golden Knights made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year in 2017-2018. It hasn't been an auspicious of a start for Seattle, but as Dunn said the team has given itself a chance to win.

What the team doesn't have to worry about — for now, at least — is fan support. Climate Pledge Arena serves as true home-ice advantage, mirroring other Seattle sports venues.

What did you think of the atmosphere tonight? Grubauer was asked.

"I love it. I think the atmosphere was incredible for the first game. Unbelievable," he said. "We expected that from what we've heard from Seahawks games and other games in Seattle."

During a break in the first period, a spectator had to answer five yes-or-no questions to win the prize. The first four were hockey-related, followed by, "Do the Kraken already have the best fans in the NHL?"

This got an emphatic yes and another from bellow from the crowd. Is that true yet? Probably not. But being in that building Saturday, it would be hard to say otherwise.

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