Announced earlier this year, the GSHL has joined forces with the Kraken. Its leagues, teams and members will still play at the various rinks from Tacoma to Everett that have been part of network since Cole started things. The rec league will keep inviting new players of all levels to join leagues and teams that match their skill sets.
What's different for the GSHL and intended to strengthen hockey bonds among adult hockey players throughout the region is a new name, the Kraken Hockey League, plus the opportunity for all players and teams to experience playing at the Kraken Training Center.
No doubt, Cole will be in the thick of it. As the first year of Kraken Hockey League beckons, we fired up a conversation with Cole. What follows is a lightly edited and a bit less wordy conversation between two guys who enjoy talking hockey - a lot:
Bob Condor: Andy, the first time we met in person, I was part of an "NHL Seattle" event presented for the youth and adult hockey community. Afterward you smiled and said, 'good job,' then promptly kidded me about how to correctly pronounce "Snohomish." I loved that. Felt like we were instant friends. Now here we are, two years later, with a new name for our team and the league you founded. Why did you start the GSHL back in 2001?
Andy Cole: I looked around at opportunities to play in a league or with friends. At the time, there were very few organized opportunities for me to play. I didn't necessarily envision myself sitting here 20 years later running one of the largest adult hockey leagues in the country. It just happened.
BC: Well, it happened with you at the lead and who knows how many captains and volunteers over the years.
AC: We built the league one player, one team at a time as I found groups of people that were seeking a similar experience - an opportunity to celebrate the game they love by playing weekly.
BC: Every time I cover the league and its events, I walk away thinking these people are having a blast and clearly enjoy, truly love, being around each other. In fact, I have been particularly struck by the teams with women and men playing alongside each other on lines and defensive pairs. Oh, and the number of females who persuaded their significant others to take up the game. So cool.
AC: Hockey culture is built on a love for the game, competition, camaraderie on and off the ice. The league has always been a landing place for women and men who may have moved from different parts of the country or even the world. They can join and find "their people" to make new friends. And, yes, there are spouses who realize how much fun the other spouse is having on the ice and at the rinks.
BC: "Their people" as in, hockey people...
AC: Hockey is the common denominator for all those that play in the league. I've lost track of how many people have moved here from Minnesota, Chicago, Boston, Canada, Europe-you name it - to work for one of our area's big tech companies. The league offers them a chance to find others who are captivated by playing the sport, who can't wait to get to practice or a game, who know the special feeling of togetherness, win or lose.
I didn't necessarily set out to do it but what I am most proud of is, yes, I found a way for people to play the game regularly, but I also played a small hand in helping people build friendships through the GSHL. We will do the same with the Kraken Hockey League.
BC: Why did you call it GSHL?
AC: I always intended for people from all around the region to play in this league and at numerous rinks. It seemed like the best name to get everybody involved. We know not everybody will want to play all of their games at the Kraken Training Center due to geography.
BC: How do you feel about changing the name to Kraken Hockey League? Why change it?
AC: Yes, I had mixed feelings but the more time I spent thinking about it, it just seemed silly to not embrace the Kraken. This franchise is more than a hockey team, it's a movement that has swept the people of this region.
I felt like we could continue our mission to grow and celebrate the game under one roof, one brand and that's how the Kraken Hockey League came to be.
Tod Leiweke, a long-time player in the Greater Seattle Hockey League...
BC: As in Tod Leiweke, Kraken CEO...
AC: Same guy. He is often quoted as saying, "It's the fans and hockey players throughout the region that have put the wind in the sails of this franchise. We are all Kraken."
That's what this league will be for the people of the region, a place to celebrate the game, celebrate friendship.
A good hockey league is like a good coffee shop… with beer. It makes you feel at home and it's where you find your friends. The Greater Seattle Hockey League and now the Kraken Hockey League will be that place for hockey players.
BC: Sounds great. But some people might feel like, oh, I'm not good enough to play or intimidated about being a newbie or both.
AC: We don't want anyone to feel that way. The Kraken are going to create so many new fans and you enjoy the sport even more if you play it. We will be registering people soon for Learn to Play Hockey classes that will start in July at Olympic View Arena in Mountlake Terrace. We will help you learn the game and the league helps match players to teams and leagues with similar skill levels.
BC: You have more than 100 teams and 2,000 players registered from year to year. The three rinks at Northgate will allow even more new players. What draws so many people to the league?
AC: First and foremost, there are a lot of people in Washington that love this game! There is always room for improvement. But we have a few principles that we live by when running this league. Competition, camaraderie, fairness, inclusion and listening to the players all come to mind. It helps guide us in our decisions and how we build the culture.
BC: Those are all such solid values.
AC: It's an inclusive league whether we are talking about gender, race or hockey ability. The Kraken's unwavering commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion will makes us even stronger.
We work really hard at listening to the players because it is ultimately the players that make this league what it is. We work with everyone to try keep the competitive balance.
There is an opportunity for the highly skilled former college player to play in our top division or someone that has literally just learned to skate in our beginner division.
BC: It's smart to "accommodate geography" for some teams to play a lot of their games closer to home, whether south or north or east. But it sounds like people are attracted to the option of ice time at the Kraken Training Center too?
AC: Everyone will have an opportunity to play at the new Kraken Training Center. We envision playing a full schedule at the Kraken Training Center.
But we will continue to play games throughout the region at other rinks as we listen to players about where they wish to play from week to week. Everybody has a busy schedule. We know geography plays a big part in people's ability to get to the games in a big city like Seattle.
BC: How much will it cost to play in the league?
AC: We are finalizing details. We expect the cost of league will be consistent with the pricing structure and modest increases we have presented from year to year.
While games will be played throughout the region, the situation of having our own facility actually presents opportunity to not only positively influence the player experience through use of a world-class facility, but we actually have greater control over the cost structure.
BC: What can players expect to find in the league? What is going to make this league unique?
AC: We are going to celebrate our traditions and history - the GSHL, its culture, the players that make this league what it is, and games being played throughout the region - while embracing the new: Riding the wave of the Kraken to enrich our hockey culture; a best-in-class facility; post-game food and beers at the training center's bar and grill.
Perhaps best of all: The power of the Kraken brand is going to bring us all together which we need in a post-Covid world!
BC: When will the new league begin?
AC: We are starting with Adult Learn to Play Hockey classes over the summer for those new to the game or those that wish to improve. We will have the benefit of coaches that have recently joined the Kraken; Marty Hlinka, Katelyn Parker and David Min that will support our classes.
Players, new and returning, can register for the league this July.. We anticipate league play will begin around the time of Seattle Kraken Training Camp, late September.
BC: Last question, well, for now: What are you most looking forward to with this new hockey adventure?
AC: That first skate at the Kraken Training Center, the first pint of beer in the bar and grill, being a part of the Kraken and finding ways to bring the players in our league that much closer to the NHL experience.