At an all-employees meeting in Seattle on Thursday afternoon, Alaska Airlines president Ben Minicucci announced the local company as NHL Seattle's Official Airline and a Founding Partner of NHL Seattle, the New Arena at Seattle Center and the team's Northgate Ice Centre.
The energetic Minicucci's announcement was preceded by an inspiring video about hockey coming to Seattle and Alaska Airlines' close association with the new team. The applause started as soon as the first Alaska plane appeared near the end of the video.
Next, six Alaska pilots rushed up the aisles toting hockey sticks - all of whom play hockey themselves on a nationwide company pilots team - while Alaska co-workers tossed custom NHL Seattle t-shirts to the crowd. The pilots performed a customary "stick-tap" that represents hockey players' version of applause. A sustained ovation followed, along with plenty of whoops and hollers.
Minicucci, a Montreal native, noted the Original Six city's NHL franchise has won 24 Stanley Cups and his fervor "to be there when [Seattle] wins a Stanley Cup."
As a key element of the partnership, the New Arena at Seattle Center's atrium will be named "Alaska Airlines Atrium." The atrium is a 36,000 square-foot feature of the brand-new building, to be located on the south side of the New Arena. It will serve as the main entrance for all events. Inside it will feature stories and images reflecting the Pacific Northwest and the travel opportunities within our region and across the globe.
"We're going to dreams some dreams," said Tod Leiweke, CEO of NHL Seattle, to a 1,500-plus crowd that cheered loudly at Leiweke's declaration for the New Arena to be a "top 5 music venue in the world" and when he credited Seattle's fans who made 10,000 ticket deposits in the first 12 minutes of registration on March 1, 2018.
"Alaska represents Seattle success and innovation and prioritizes service and experience in the same way we do," said Leiweke. "To have the hometown airline's name on our front door, welcoming millions of fans to this beautiful arena, is the perfect fit for us."
Minicucci grew up playing hockey in Montreal, so the new partnership with Oak View Group and NHL Seattle is no doubt a perfect fit.
"I love the drive and energy of players and fans alike," he said. "This is an incredible sport - kids must really want to play, with early ice times and cold temperatures - so anyone who winds up in hockey has to work for it. At Alaska, we get that, and we're proud to be a founding part of bringing hockey to this great and growing city."
Alaska employees were equally enthused about hockey, music, Seattle Storm basketball and lots more coming to the New Arena in 2021.
"This is fantastic," said Rebekah Funk, a tax director at Alaska, during a post-meeting reception with food and beverages, plus air hockey tables and a photo booth with a backdrop that featured Alaska Airlines and NHL Seattle logos and themed props. Funk had just stepped from a group shot with other smiling co-workers.
"My daughter is playing hockey [under-6 years old or U6] with the Seattle Thunderbirds junior girls team this season and my son plays U-8," said Funk. "Plus, we just picked out our NHL Seattle seats three weeks ago [as part of the club-seat selection process, which will be followed by general-seat selection this spring]."
Funk said her family has rooted for the NHL's Vancouver Canucks but added "that is going to change quickly."
Alaska pilot and captain Mark Buzzell said he was "super excited" when heard that his company was partnering with NHL Seattle and the New Arena at Seattle Center. He explained during the reception, while still holding the hockey stick from his on-stage appearance, that he lives in Camus, WA and his family has billeted (housed and provided stability) for junior hockey players (16 to 18 years old) who compete for the nearby Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League.
Twenty-two years with Alaska, Buzzell still plays the sport himself-at least as much as his schedule allows. In fact, he is the leader of the airline's pilot team, which plays about five tournaments each hockey seasons at locations throughout the U.S. He estimated about 90 Alaska pilots are active hockey players.
"We play East Coast, West Coast, fun games and tournaments," said Buzzell. "Our teammates live all over, Boston, New York City, Florida, Chicago, out West. The hardest part is coordinating everyone's [flight] schedules, getting 14 guys in the same place the same weekend for a tournament."
Fellow pilot and stickhandler on stage, Cameron Miller, grew up in Anacortes, playing hockey as part of the Sno-King program. He was a goaltender then and still is 17 years into his professional flying career.
"My son is six years old," said Miller. "He is totally into hockey and he is beginning to make a lot of goalie moves, blocking the ball or puck around the house."
With its headquarters in Seattle, Alaska Airlines has a rich history of giving back to its hometown and connecting Seattle to the world. This partnership is no exception as the airline will work closely with NHL Seattle to create a variety of partnerships and initiatives that benefit the Seattle community, beyond events at the New Arena.