SEATTLE — Walking into the preview centre for the new NHL franchise coming to Seattle is a sensory overload of pictures and video giving a peek at what is going to arrive in the 2021-22 season when the team begins play in its flashy new arena.
For those in charge of the franchise, the locker unveiled on Tuesday with the nameplate of Guyle Fielder on the front, filled with equipment from more than a half-century ago along and an old Seattle Totems sweater hanging on the frame is just as important as all the flashy technology of the future.
Fielder is far from a household name in hockey circles. But for a time in the 1950s and 60s, Fielder was one of the best hockey players in North America not playing in the NHL, and he called Seattle home for the majority of his career. So while pointing toward its future as an NHL franchise beginning in a couple of years, the new Seattle franchise wants to honour the city’s hockey past, starting with Fielder.
When his career ended in 1973, Fielder had 1,929 career points — 438 goals and 1,491 assists — in the Western Hockey League. While the competition is not an equal comparison to the NHL, Fielder still has the fourth-most points of pro hockey players in North America, trailing only Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr and Gordie Howe.
"When you’re coming into a town where we want to build our game. The game of hockey is such a great game and I think a lot of people don’t know that there is a real history of it here," said Dave Tippett, former NHL coach serving as a senior adviser to the new Seattle franchise. "They’ve got two very good junior franchises here but the history of the game has been around here a long time. History with some different buildings. It’s doing everything we can do to honour the game and to build the game."
The nod to Seattle’s hockey history is important to Tippett and team president Tod Leiweke. And it made sense to honour Fielder first, with a locker dedicated to the 88-year-old that is a permanent fixture in the team’s preview centre. The franchise also unveiled an award in Fielder’s name to be given out yearly to one of its future players.
"Tod is a hockey nut and he loves Seattle and he wants to make sure this franchise is built right and honours the past while also is doing everything he can do to build a top-notch franchise," Tippett said.
Fielder played in the era of the Original Six when breaking into the NHL was a difficult challenge for even the best players. When he failed to make the roster of the Chicago Blackhawks, Fielder decided to ply his trade professionally on the West Coast, mostly in the WHL.
Fielder developed into the best player of his era out West. His 22-year career spanned six different franchises in the WHL, but most of his time was spent in Seattle, first with the Americans and late with the Totems. It was his green Totems jersey that hung on the ceremonial locker. Nearby was the "Guyle Fielder Trophy," given to the points leader in the WHL each season. Watching Fielder be honoured was his former teammate Jim Powers, one of the wingers who was the recipient of many of those assists from Fielder.
It was emotional at moments for Fielder, who said he hopes he’s still around to be at the first game in 2021.
"It was a great city to play in. They had great fans. I’m a little disappointed that they (didn’t) have the National Hockey League here 50 years ago because they deserve it," Fielder said. "They are great fans. You wait and see. As the seasons go along they’re going to support this team."