Will latte-sipping Seattle embrace the brawny NHL and its newest team?
I asked that question in these pages three years ago, after the league announced its 32nd franchise would soon be based in a city where the last brush with hockey fame came from a Stanley Cup-winning team, the Metropolitans, that folded in 1924.
The answer is now clear: Move over and make some room, Russell Wilson. This city is flush in the throes of a love affair with its newest big-time team.
The early stirrings were apparent from the start. On the first day they could, 32,000 fans put down deposits for the mere chance to purchase season tickets. A waiting list had nearly 60,000 names.
Today, fans line up early to watch practice at the team’s flashy new headquarters. The team plays its first home game Saturday at Climate Pledge Arena. Once the team announced its name and went public with its blue-and-red logo, Kraken merchandise became ubiquitous. And talking about NHL hockey has become a thing.
Nowhere in this wealthy, rapidly changing metropolis will you feel more burning passion for the Kraken than at the Angry Beaver, which bills itself as Seattle’s original hockey bar.
Tucked inside a low-slung neighborhood in the city’s north end, the Angry Beaver isn’t just a shrine to the game and a must-stop for Kraken fans. It symbolizes the hard fight for survival during this pandemic: the trials and the pain of the moment, and the way communities can band together to survive, in this case, with sports and hockey as the centerpiece.
When the bar opened in 2012, the NHL was hardly on the Seattle radar. When people mused about new sports franchises, they spoke mostly of righting a wrong: getting an NBA team back after the SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008. (Most Seattleites, you should know, say their team was flat out stolen.)
“In 2012, nobody was talking about a hockey team as anything more than a distant possibility,” said Tim Pipes, proprietor of the Angry Beaver, a former rock musician who grew up in Toronto loving the Maple Leafs.
Pipes, 59, built his business for the small slice of tried-and-true puckheads in town, many who had moved here from regions with NHL traditions — New York or Boston, for example.
Business was catching on when, late on a March night in 2016, a gas leak turned into a huge explosion that leveled several businesses across the street from the Angry Beaver.
Nobody was hurt inside the bar, but the interior looked as if a hurricane had whipped through it.
Pipes boarded up the building for a while and readied for a comeback.
A few weeks later, thieves struck in the predawn darkness, carting away priceless memorabilia and trashing the place anew.
Pipes could have walked away then, leaving behind his dreams and hundreds of beloved customers. But he trudged on. When the NHL announced in 2018 that Seattle would be awarded a new franchise, that seemed like a brilliant decision.
“After all those years of struggle, I was finally ready to have that real breakthrough,” Pipes said.
Then came the pandemic. The bar bore a similar brunt felt by other small businesses across the country. On government orders, it shut down. Then it opened at partial capacity. Pipes tried to pivot. He turned his bar into a takeout restaurant. When that failed, he shut down again.
“I was so overwhelmed that I just wanted to run away from everything,” Pipes said. “I wanted to get in my truck, throw my dog in and just drive away, off to Canada.”
What kept him going more than anything else was his loyal customers. They started a GoFundMe campaign and raised roughly $42,000 to help keep their favorite watering hole afloat.
With the Kraken’s inaugural season tantalizingly close, the calculus became simple: Could the Angry Beaver remain open long enough to benefit from the windfall of customers and interest that the team would create?
By grace and goodwill, the Angry Beaver stayed open just long enough. And now it thrives.
Regulars and new timers packed the bar for Kraken preseason games. During the team’s regular-season opener last week, a road game against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Angry Beaver rocked with vibrant energy. The rafters shook when Seattle’s new team scored three straight goals to tie the score.
That game ended up being a tough 4-3 loss for Seattle, but defeat hardly dampened the enthusiasm.
On Saturday, an hour before the Kraken’s road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, fans jammed inside the Angry Beaver again.
There sat Todd Rosenbaum and his wife, Rosie, longtime Devils fans, new to the neighborhood after a recent move from the East Coast, ready to embrace the Kraken.
There stood Leif O’Leary, a Boston Bruins fan in a Boston Bruins jersey. O’Leary grew up in the Northeast and now said he will find a place in his heart for a second-favorite team.
Jeff Roman perched himself at the bar, learning as he watched. “I’m a first-time Kraken fan and a first-time hockey fan,” he said. “I got into this when I watched the second Seattle game on TV this week. It was so fast and dynamic, I thought to myself, ‘Where has this game been all of my life?’ Now I’m going to hang at this bar all the time.”
On the ice, the game against the Blue Jackets was typical of Seattle’s early season: scrappy and hard-fought, two teams separated at the end by a single goal. Seattle lost 2-1 in overtime, moving its season record to 1-1-1.
Pipes watched it all unfold from the sidewalk, just outside the bar. This first week had been an emotional one. He had been walking around with a lump in his throat.
“It’s easier right now to not be in the bar,” he said, tears welling in his eyes. “I can’t help but think back to all we’ve been through. I was so close to losing this place. It’s like I have PTSD, but now I’m healing because the Kraken are here. We held on, the team is finally here and hockey fans are more than ready.”
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