SEATTLE — Bustling, bruising, big-time hockey in this foggy, tech-loving, latte-sipping city?
When you think of professional sports in Seattle, Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks may come to mind. Or maybe your memory drifts to Ken Griffey Jr. batting for the Mariners.
Perhaps, as so many people in this town do, you remember ghosts of the N.B.A.: Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Downtown Freddie Brown. But the SuperSonics have been gone for a decade. In 2008, they shuffled off, ignominiously, to Oklahoma City to be reborn as the Thunder.
Now, though, Seattle, which has pined for a replacement on the hardwood for 10 years, will finally have a new squad to root for — but it will play on ice and specialize in slap shots, not slam dunks.
You want to talk about ghosts? The illustrious, if little-known, Seattle Metropolitans were the first American hockey team to hoist the Stanley Cup. But that was in 1917. Hockey, at its highest level, hasn’t been played here for nearly a century.
This once brawling seaport has changed a lot since then.
When the N.H.L. announced last week that Seattle would get the league’s 32nd franchise, it stuck its fork into an organic salad and popped the top on a craft beer.
Seattle’s new hockey team does not have a name yet, but it has deep-pocketed owners who plan to complete a lavish, privately funded, $850 million upgrade of the Sonics’ downtown stadium, Key Arena, in order to begin playing in it in the fall of 2021.
Whatever its moniker turns out to be (the Seattle Kraken?), the team already has feverish support. From the moment season tickets became available, 25,000 deposits were sold in the first hour.
Will these hyped early days translate into long-term success?
“Absolutely,” said Tim Pipes, one of the most passionate grass-roots hockey supporters in town. “All of the elements are here. The whole area is ripe for the greatest game going.”
Pipes, who grew up in Toronto rooting for the Maple Leafs, is owner and impresario at the Angry Beaver, a cozy, no-frills watering hole north of downtown with a distinctly Canadian atmosphere and a billing as Seattle’s only full-fledged hockey bar.
Like many other tried-and-true puck heads here, Pipes, 56, sandy-haired and enthusiastic, is part hockey evangelist and part historian of the sport in his adopted city. Over the years, he said, with nothing more to root for but local minor league and junior teams, the game in Seattle has developed a deeply dedicated following.
“Coming from Toronto, I really found hockey to be a very quirky thing here,” Pipes told me. His bar was dense with the smell of poutine. Patrons were drinking Molson and watching N.H.L. games on big-screen TVs. “But quirky — that’s good. Hockey is an unusual sport. There’s nothing like it. The speed. The power. And it’s a ballet on ice.
“Sure,’’ he continued, “it’s not as popular in the U.S. as a sport like football, but just like with pro soccer and our Sounders, where they have huge crowds all the time, a sport as exciting and niche as hockey seems like a natural fit in a place like this.”
Seattle has long been a city that prides itself on idiosyncrasies.
Huge corporations like Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks took root here, of all places, in this drizzly Northwest corner of the continental United States. Few cities have such a dense array of nooks and crannies, of tree-lined lakes and narrow waterways, of tucked-away neighborhoods and quiet cafes.
One of Seattle’s most popular annual parades snakes by a 16-foot statue of Vladimir Lenin and features throngs of nude bicyclists. One of the most beloved works of public art is a massive sculpture of a craggy troll who sits in the shadows beneath an old bridge.
The city gave birth to grunge rock music in the 1990s. But many people forget that well before then, Seattle had a flourishing African-American jazz scene, where Ray Charles, Ernestine Anderson and Quincy Jones developed their chops. Jimi Hendrix grew up here.
Quirky? Bruce Lee honed his martial art in the same neighborhood.
New, cool and different have always had a home in Seattle — so long as new and cool and different were great.
Still, as I moved about the city after the N.H.L. announcement, it was hard to gauge much general excitement for Seattle’s new hockey team. That was hardly surprising. Seattle’s culture is politely understated, and opening day is three years off.
But at the Angry Beaver, on a weekend night, I could feel enormous energy. Most patrons were watching the Boston Bruins play the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“The Bruins are my favorite team, but the N.H.L. in Seattle is something I’ve been waiting for my whole life,” said Jim Cockrill, a heavy equipment operator wearing a No. 37 Bruins jersey.
Cockrill faithfully attended minor league hockey games as a boy, hoping against hope that the N.H.L. would one day come to town. “It’s like a dream,” he said. “Everyone here will say the same.”
Cockrill was something of an anomaly at the bar: a native of the area. Surrounding him were other Bruins fans — most of them from Boston or other parts of the East Coast. Across from him were Toronto supporters. All but a few were from Toronto or points far beyond the state of Washington.
“The transplants,” Pipes called them, before proudly noting that he had come to Seattle to be a rock musician, so he was one of them. “The transplants bring the love of hockey that they learned in places like Boston, New York or Canada. They’re so passionate about the sport!
“Now they’re going to be falling in love with a new team.”
His saloon hummed. Clusters of men and women, eyes on the television sets, shouted, cursed and laughed. “Ah, my beloved Red Wings,” said Raoul Beacom, 62. He spoke wistfully of growing up in the Midwest and going to Red Wings games with his father. “You know, I will always back Detroit,” he said. “It’s the memories of youth.
“But now I’ll have someone new to root for. Seattle has the longest-suffering fans in hockey. It’s been 101 years since the Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup. After all these years, the game will be back.”
Hockey in Seattle?
You bet. And I’ll have a cappuccino.