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Growth Factor

As NHL Seattle breaks ground for construction on the three-rink Northgate Ice Centre, a parallel project builds out more young players

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ / NHLSeattle.com

Northgate to be PNW's hockey hub

Northgate Ice Centre will be a hockey hub for the PNW

Northgate Ice Centre will be the gateway and regional epicenter for hockey as well as the official training center for NHL Seattle.

  • 01:10 •

The power of three is undeniable across civilizations and hockey: Three wise men. Body, mind, spirit. Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Hat Tricks. Three periods. Left wing-Center-Right Wing.

NHL Seattle officially begins construction of its three-rink training and office complex Thursday at the former Northgate Mall site (the main building will go up on the former Macy's department store location). It is only fitting we hear from Kyle Boyd, the team's director of youth and community development, to discuss, wait for it, three primary benefits of kids playing hockey at the new facility or already established rinks in the Seattle area. 

When talking to parents and kids, Boyd says he emphasizes how hockey is different than other sports, focusing on three reasons why the sport could be just right for those baby bears out there. 

"First is the skating," says Boyd. "Hockey is unique among all sports. With skating, you fail before you succeed. You fail fast, you fail hard, but you learn failure. You pick yourself up and keep going. Parents can sometimes be reluctant to allow failure for their kids."

Second, says Boyd, "all body types can be successful--you don't have to be fast, strong or tall; today's NHL demonstrates it."

A third appealing differentiator: "You can't walk into a rink and jump right on the ice," says Boyd, who played ultra-competitive high school hockey in his home state of Minnesota. "Part of the sport is getting ready in the locker room with your teammate, talking and connecting. Post-game you can't just walk away. You take off your skates and equipment, breaking down the game or practice with the team."

While the Northgate Ice Centre will serve the cutting-edge practice and training needs of the NHL team, it also increases the number of community ice sheets within Seattle city limits from zero to three. When the three rinks are finished in 2021, it will create an estimated 18,000 hours of additional ice time per year across the three rinks for youth hockey, community open skates, adult hockey, figure skating, synchronized skating, curling, birthday parties, corporate parties and more. 

"Open skates with themes will be an important opportunity to showcase skating to the casual ice enthusiasts and hockey novices," says Tarn Sublett, general manager of the Northgate Ice Centre and a former University of Washington quarterback. "Fans will be able to watch the NHL team's practices, too."

To that end, the Northgate complex will serve as a hub for NHL fans, including those without season tickets. The team plans watch parties, fan events and other game-night activities at the complex and its restaurant-bar in addition to the majority of practices being open to the public. 

Sublett (pronounced "Su-blay") says NHL Seattle anticipates a jump in annual youth hockey participation in Washington state significantly greater than the current 10 to 15 percent once the Northgate facility is open concurrently with the franchise inaugural 2021-22 NHL season. 

"Right now, the youth hockey number is about 5,000," says Sublett. "It can't grow much more without new rinks."

Sublett says it is a huge positive that the Sno-King amateur hockey association is partnering with a private developer to build a new two-rink facility in Snoqualmie to be ready by summer of 2020. He said he expects the Northgate complex to engage 1,500 new youth and adult hockey players beginning in the fall of 2021, then an additional 500 predominantly youth skaters with each new hockey season. Add in Sno-King's similar projections for Eastside players and Washington state likely jumps from a No. 17 youth hockey ranking among states to top 10 or even better by the 2024-25.

What's more, every new NHL market encourages sharp increases in players ages 8 and under. This matches up with NHL's objective "organically support growing the 4- to 9-year-old age group," says Sublett.

"The most important thing is the health of youth hockey across all of the rinks and programs in this region," says Sublett. "We will be fully engaged in learn-to-skate and learn-to-play hockey programs beginning next season [a full year ahead of the Northgate opening]. We plan to support all local programs with sponsorship, industry growth funds [co-led by the NHL and NHL Players Association] and a more consistent plan to teach the game [consolidating best practices among youth coaches in the Pacific Northwest]. 

Boyd is getting a head start this year, attending as many learn-to-skate and Try Hockey for Free clinics as he can, plus teaching gymnasium-friendly floor ball at local schools. "We want to build awareness for the sport along with strengthening existing youth hockey programs."

Boyd and Sublett are particularly focused on growing the sport in communities with no previous access to hockey. The Northgate Ice Centre's location near I-5 and a Light Rail station connection (ready in mid-2021) will afford convenient transit options for potential players in such communities. 

During Thursday's Northgate ground-breaking and media event, officials for Virginia Mason Medical Center, a NHL Seattle founding partner, will discuss plans to build a new clinical facility to serve the north King and south Snohomish county area, plus provide health care services to the NHL Seattle players, employees and family members. Michael McCarty, president of Simon Development, will talk publically for the first time about his company's intent to add a hotel, office space and residential space to the Northgate project. 

Boyd says it all adds up to more variety and more serendipitous opportunities to discover the allure of hockey for kids and adults alike: "The multiple rinks will allow us to stagger-start all sorts of events, including high-level hockey at no cost. It's a key part of youth hockey development. Kids are walking out of one rink, say after an open skate or novice game, they see a University of Washington game or top 16U team in progress and ask their parents if they can watch for a bit, maybe sitting with friends or teammates. They want to stay around."

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