Seattle brings the noise as Kraken make memorable home debut vs. Canucks

Kraken general manager Ron Francis joined After Hours to reflect on Seattle's home opener, the journey to the inaugural season since he was first hired in 2019, his bond with his brother and relationship with Sault Ste. Marie, and more.

SEATTLE — Kraken captain Mark Giordano appeared on a pair of huge triangular video boards hanging over NHL ice that’s made out of collected rain water, and said, with a smile, “Hey Seattle, it’s Gio. Welcome to opening night.”

Jordan Eberle and Jaden Schwartz and Philipp Grubauer said something, too, and it might’ve been good, but that’s anyone’s guess because you couldn’t hear a single word at that point. Captain Gio had spoken and so Kraken fans were going bananas, and for about the 100th time on Saturday night, before the puck even dropped on an historic inaugural home game for the NHL’s 32nd franchise.

Yes, the Kraken have officially been “released,” as they said over and over in pre-game hype videos and speeches, in front of a raucous crowd of 17,151, who sat in a brand spanking new Climate Pledge Arena that touts itself as “the world’s most sustainable.” It really is wildly impressive, featuring electric Zambonis tending that rain-turned-ice, more than 80,000 plants on a “living wall” in one of its concourses and, the best feature of all, the incredible windows at the north end that let in natural light, where you’d find a handful of fans catching the game for free from outside.

Most of those fans both inside and out stayed to catch the full 60 minutes on Saturday, to cheer their team on even after the Kraken delivered a disappointing 4-2 loss against their rivals from Vancouver, a result that came on account of a bad bounce and an empty-netter in the third period.

But oh, the Kraken can’t wait to win here. “It was electric in here all night,” said Captain Gio, afterward. He scored to give the Kraken a 2-1 lead in the third — a wrist shot he ripped from the faceoff dot over the left shoulder of Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko — and got this place buzzing. “The fans, that’s right up there with anyone. There wasn’t too may moments where it was silent. Actually there wasn’t any, to be honest,” Giordano added.

“We wanted that one bad. You can feel the buzz in the air. Everyone was excited for that one. I think this is going to be a tough building to play in, if we play with that type of energy, if the crowd gives us that type of energy, it’s going to be a tough place to come in here and take points. And that’s what we have to take pride in and look forward to.”

The fans delivered big time. It was playoff-type stuff in October, especially early on. When Kraken defender Vince Dunn scored the first-ever goal here to put Seattle up 1-0 with 3.2 seconds left in the first period — a wrist shot that went in off the far post, which Dunn celebrated with a hearty fist-pump — Climate Pledge hit a new decibel level.

“I don’t know if you can get more,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol, of that crowd noise. “That was outstanding. It was an amazing atmosphere. Bottom line is we wanted to reward the group in the stands with a win tonight. It’s a sour taste, walking off the rink and walking out of the rink tonight. That’s a part of it, because they were awesome.”

They were. This crowd may have featured more people wearing jerseys than not, and maybe it only appeared that way since the deep sea blue, ice blue, boundless blue, shadow blue and red alert (those are the actual names of the Kraken’s colours, sports fans) really pop on those jerseys. Either way: Tons of fans wore jerseys. They drank Kraken Beer. Some wore knitted Kraken sea monster hats. They booed Vancouver at every chance, because this may be a new rivalry for teams located a mere cottage-length drive (and a border) away, but it’s real. And over and over the fans chanted “Let’s go Kra-Ken!” (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap).

The in-arena hype was sensational, too. An animated spiky puffer fish led the crowd to yell “Ey-O!” over and over with great intensity. Steady beats were playing in the arena in the pre-game. The video board showed images of the Space Needle, with a Kraken flag soaring from the top — a flag hoisted up there Saturday morning thanks to the brawn of the Hall of Famer on Seattle’s scouting staff, Cammi Granato.

In the pre-game hubbub, Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke took the mic and told fans, “We did it!” and then he told them they were retiring No. 32, and the banner came down from the rafters for the NHL’s 32nd team, to thank the 32,000 fans who became season’s ticket depositors in a single day. “Let’s go Kraken!” Leiweke said, setting the fans off yet again.

Heart’s Ann Wilson sang the American national anthem. Four-time WNBA champion Sue Bird was here. Ciara was here. Rapper Macklemore was here. Seahawks Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner and DK Metcalf were here. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was here, too, and unlike many other special guests, he was booed heartily after he said “Hello, Seattle.” Much of this fan base is new to hockey, but they knew enough to know how Bettman is often greeted.

That this was an historic event was evident not only in the ceremony. Saturday morning on NBC’s local news, fans could watch a full hockey explainer, featuring animated versions of Kraken players demonstrating what calls like icing and offside mean. “A penalty you might see,” the broadcast explained, “is boarding.” And then, boom, an example of said boarding.

The game marked just the second time the Kraken players set foot on this ice, the first time coming at 10:30 a.m. PT for the morning skate. The venue officially opened earlier this week for a Foo Fighters concert, and hosted Coldplay Friday night. Saturday during morning skates, people were laying down last-minute carpets, discussing where they’d cut holes in the arena’s surrounding plexiglass for cameras, and someone was even operating a saw. The last-minute touches were happening.

The Kraken have been released, at last. And Saturday was just a promising taste of what pro hockey will look like in Seattle.

“I love it,” Grubauer said of the crowd support, with a grin. “I think the atmosphere was incredible for the first game, unbelievable. We expected that, what we’ve heard from the Seahawks games, other games, in Seattle.”

The Kraken’s next shot at a first win at home in franchise history comes Tuesday against Montreal.

“We were super proud to play here and obviously we wanted to get a win on home ice to get this one going,” Grubauer said. “Got to get ready for the next one and get the next one.”

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