First clash between Kraken, Canucks represents rebirth of rivalry

Brandon Tanev joined Caroline Cameron ahead of the Seattle Kraken's home opener to discuss his popularity as a player, his iconic player photo, which of his teammates is poised for a breakout season, and more.

SEATTLE -- Hockey trivia: Name the first American team to win the Stanley Cup?

We’ll help. It wasn’t the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers or Chicago Blackhawks.

How many guesses would you need before you got the Seattle Metropolitans?

It was in 1917, and they beat the Montreal Canadiens when the winner of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association was entitled to challenge the National Hockey League champion for the Stanley Cup.

The Metropolitans might have won again in 1919 but the Cup was cancelled due to the Spanish Flu, which sickened most of the Canadiens and claimed the life of Montreal defenceman Joe Hall.

To get to those finals, the Metropolitans had to go through the Vancouver Millionaires, who won the Stanley Cup in 1915 and took six PCHA titles in 10 years before the startup league folded with the Metropolitans in 1924.

That’s a lot of history.

But here we are, one century and another global pandemic later, with the Seattle Kraken playing the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night in the first NHL game in Seattle since the fabled teams from the east came out to defend the Stanley Cup four generations ago.

This is not the start of a great hockey rivalry between Vancouver and Seattle; it is the rebirth of one.

Naturally, it is the Canucks who visit the Kraken when the NHL’s newest team plays its home-opener at Climate Pledge Arena, a spectacular feat of engineering that saw the Seattle franchise build a billion-dollar stadium underneath the distinctive roof of the old Seattle Center Arena, which was constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair and later designated a historic landmark in Seattle.

“It's amazing,” Kraken chief operating officer Victor de Bonis said Friday. “There's nothing like it in the world. It's the most beautiful arena in the world. It's like going through a museum.”

Except louder.

De Bonis is as unique as the arena.

Raised five blocks from the Pacific Coliseum in East Vancouver, where the Canucks spent their first 25 years in the NHL, de Bonis’ first job was parking cars at Canucks games. He could tell from the noise inside how the home team was doing.

He eventually joined the Canucks’ finance department in 1994, a few months before Vancouver’s run to the Stanley Cup Final against the Rangers, and ascended to the role of Chief Operating Officer, a position he held until leaving the Canucks in 2017.

A little more than a year later, he agreed to take on the same role for an as-yet-to-be-awarded NHL franchise in Seattle that was being spearheaded by Chief Executive Officer Tod Leiweke, who had been part of a corporate dream team that worked for the Canucks in the late 1990s before going on to top positions in the NHL and NFL.

De Bonis remembers, as most sports fans do who grew up in Metro Vancouver, driving across the border once or twice a year to attend major sporting events in Seattle. Mariners baseball games in the summer, Seahawks football games in the fall, sometimes for soccer, which for the last 40 years has been the most tangible example of the Seattle-Vancouver rivalry.

“When you came down here, other than the flag, it felt like you were still home, like you were not in a different country,” de Bonis said. “But they had a couple of more teams in Seattle. And it was a very, very engaged community with its sports team. When I moved here, it was the fall (of 2018) and it felt like a hockey town. The fans were rabid, the temperature felt like hockey, the landscape -- it was made for hockey.”

There has always been hockey in the Pacific Northwest, where the landscape, diverse culture and progressive vibes have long connected Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

“There's so many hockey people in that area,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “You talk about the junior teams, there was Tri-Cities (in Kennewick, Wash.), Spokane, Everett, Seattle. There's so many hockey people in that area being so close to the Canadian border. Maybe it's surprising to some other people, but there's a lot of hockey people in the Northwest.”

Green should know. He played junior hockey in Spokane, played many games in Seattle and launched his coaching career in Portland.

“Naturally, there will be a bit of a rivalry because we're pretty close in proximity,” Green said of the Canucks and Kraken. “But that also takes time. I don't think players are going into (Saturday) thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is some heated rivalry.’ I know when I played in Toronto and we played Ottawa, we knew it was on. There was blood that had been boiling for a couple of years. That's what happens when you go through some playoff series, and this rivalry will take a little time as well.”

Well, maybe.

We won’t know how big a rivalry it is until the land border fully reopens, allowing fans to travel for road games. The drive between Vancouver and Seattle is comparable to commutes for the Battle of Alberta. But already, the Kraken look like one of the teams capable of challenging the Canucks and others for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division, which should be topped by Vegas and Edmonton but is wide open after that.

“Obviously, the points are huge no matter where you're playing,” Canucks defenceman Brad Hunt said. “But it still will be really cool to play the first-ever game in Seattle. That's something that beyond this season, three or four years from now, you'll look back and say that was pretty cool to be a part of.

“I think once that border opens, you're really going to see that rivalry take off with fans being able to cross both ways to go to their team's games.”

Hunt grew up in Maple Ridge, just outside of Vancouver, and loved going to baseball games at what was then Safeco Field in Seattle.

“Garlic fries,” Hunt said when asked for a favourite memory.

Canucks defenceman Kyle Burroughs, who is from Langley, just on the Canadian side of the border, remembers going to minor hockey tournaments in the Seattle area and making an annual tour of junior teams in Washington State when he played in the Western Hockey League for the Regina Pats.

“And we did all our back-to-school shopping there,” he laughed.

He said the atmosphere for hockey was “always rocking.”

“When that team was announced, I think everybody from Vancouver knew it was kind of going to be an instant rivalry,” Burroughs said. “I know that we're excited to get that going and kick it off. Obviously, we want to be the best team of the Northwest.”

“They're certainly going to be amped up for their first-ever home game in their new arena,” veteran Canuck Tyler Myers said. “We expect it's going to kick off some pretty good hockey, but we just have to keep focusing on the same things that we have been trying to win each game. I think the atmosphere is going to be pretty crazy.”

All Climate Pledge Arena will be missing Saturday is, say, 1,000 Canucks fans making the two-and-a-half-hour drive south to cheer for the road team.

De Bonis said he looks forward to that happening when the border re-opens.

“But they’ll have trouble getting tickets,” he added.

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