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A History of Hockey Under Arena Roof

NHL greats of past and future will play under same roof at Seattle Center

by Andy Eide / @AndyEide /

When the Montreal Canadiens make their first visit to the New Arena at Seattle Center at some point in the 2021-2022 NHL season it will be a historic night as one of the most decorated franchises in hockey plays an NHL game in Seattle for the first time. The arena will be new to all but two Canadiens players who may look up at the roof with familiarity.

Goalie Carey Price and defenseman Shea Weber developed their games playing in the Western Hockey League including multiple games at the Seattle Center. Price played in 18 regular season and playoff games for the Tri-City Americans under that roof between 2003 and 2007 while Weber patrolled the blue line 11 times for the Kelowna Rockets between 2002 and 2005.

The new arena being built for NHL Seattle at the Center is going to be a state-of-the-art marvel and will see the game's brightest play night in and night out. While the arena is new, the roof will be the same iconic shelter that first covered the Seattle Coliseum in 1962. 

It's the same roof that has watched many burgeoning NHL players skate on the ice below, on their way to the big leagues.

Playing in the WHL, a development league for the best 16 to 20-year-olds in Western Canada and United States, the Seattle Thunderbirds began playing a few home games in the Seattle Coliseum in 1989. When the arena was remodeled and renamed Key Arena in 1995, the Thunderbirds made it their permanent home until 2008.

It was a unique setting for a WHL team at the time as not many major-junior teams could boast an arena of that size, located in the heart of a large metropolitan city.

"At the time I was 16 or 17-years-old and lived in Newcastle," San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon says. "We had to drive over the 90 bridge into downtown Seattle, seeing the skyline. For me, that was always so cool and such a treat, you felt like an NHLer driving into the big city and coming in, going down the ramp at the back of Key Arena…I remember our dressing room, we had a great set up in there. It was super cool to be a part of."

Dillon was in Seattle from 2007 through 2011 and played in the last hockey game at Key Arena in December of 2008 - a 2-0 Seattle win over the Chiliwack Bruins. The Thunderbirds then moved into their current home in Kent at the accesso ShoWare Center. Dillon has since gone on to play over 550 NHL games between the Dallas Stars and the Sharks.

The roster of NHLers who've played under those lights doesn't stop there. 

The biggest name of them all is Patrick Marleau, who joined the Thunderbirds in 1995. He spent two seasons playing beneath that roof and delighting the Seattle faithful. In 143 games, he scored 83 goals while piling up 199 points and leading the Thunderbirds to their first WHL Championship Series in 1997.

Marleau would be selected second overall by the San Jose Sharks in the 1997 entry draft and crack the NHL roster at 18-years-old the following fall. He is currently in his 22nd season, all but two with the Sharks, and has lit the lamp 557 times, won two gold Olympic gold medals (2010 and 2014) and appeared in three NHL All-Star games.

It's not just Thunderbirds players who have had memorable moments while playing under the roof.

There is a long list of recognizable NHL names who made an appearance or two at the Seattle Center, including names like Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien who played six times in Seattle with the Prince George Cougars, picking up seven assists in the process. Prince George also brought guys like long time Boston Bruins tower Zdeno Chara, and Nashville Predators defenseman Dan Hamhuis into Seattle.

Former Chicago Blackhawks star Marion Hossa played as a visitor in Seattle with the Portland Winterhawks, as did Anaheim Ducks star Ryan Getzlaf, who played with the Calgary Hitmen. The list also includes Dion Phaneuff (Red Deer), Scott Gomez (Tri-City Americas) and Scott Hartnell (Prince Albert Raiders).

Before Hall-of-Fame defenseman Scott Niedermayer won four Stanley Cups - three with the New Jersey Devils and one with the Anaheim Ducks - he played in the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers. One of his early big hockey moments came in May of 1992, in Seattle under the iconic roof.

That year, Seattle was the second American city to host the Memorial Cup Cup (the pinnacle of major junior hockey) featuring the host Thunderbirds, the WHL Champion Blazers, the Ontario Hockey League champs Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Verdun College-Francais.

Niedermayer and his Blazers advanced to the championship game against Sault Ste. Marie. A wild, back and forth contest found the two teams tied at four with time running out. Overtime seemed imminent. 

That was until Niedermayer picked up the puck just inside his own blue line and spotted Zac Boyer streaking through the neutral zone. Niedermayer hit him with a perfect past and Boyer broke behind the Greyhounds defense to score the Memorial Cup winning goal with just 14 seconds left in the game.

It would be Niedermayer's last junior game as he joined the Devils the following season, on his way to playing 1,263 NHL games while appearing in five All-Star games. He also would win the Norris (2004) and Conn Smythe (2007) trophies.

Like Niedermayer, Price played his last junior game under the roof at Seattle Center, but he might want to forget his.

Price's Tri-City Americans met the Thunderbirds in the opening round of the 2007 WHL playoffs and he faced elimination in Game 6 at Key Arena.

Things started rough as one of Price's own defenseman tried to fire the puck around the boards and instead, misfired. The puck surprised Price and sailed over his shoulder and into the net for an own goal, three minutes into the contest. Things went downhill from there as Price was pulled after the second period, with six goals against on his ledger.

He overcame the loss, making his NHL debut the following year for Montreal, where he has played ever since. Along the way he's won a Vezina Trophy as goalie of the year and a Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 2015. Price has appeared in seven All-Star games and won an Olympic Gold Medal for Canada.

The New Arena at Seattle Center will be home to NHL Seattle and its future players. There will be memorable moments abound with great performances by great players. And just as it has in the past, the iconic roof will look down on its players and fans, making new history for future generations.

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