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Kraken inaugural home opener a success despite loss to Canucks

'Electric' atmosphere at Climate Pledge Arena welcomed newest NHL team in Seattle opener

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

SEATTLE -- The moment was everything the Seattle Kraken imagined.

Defenseman Mark Giordano, the first captain in their history, fired a wrist shot from the left circle into the far side of the net to give them a 2-1 lead at 5:09 of the third period in their inaugural home opener.

The sellout crowd of 17,151 roared. The goal horn sounded from a decommissioned Washington State Ferry. And then came the goal song, "Lithium" from the Seattle band Nirvana, the late Kurt Cobain crooning, "Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeaaah!"

Video: VAN@SEA: Giordano fires home a shot from the circle

"That's why it stings," Giordano said. "We wanted that one bad."

The Kraken went on to lose 4-2 to the Vancouver Canucks at Climate Pledge Arena on Saturday, and there's no sugarcoating it in the short term: They're 1-4-1.

But the NHL expanded to Seattle for the long term, and after one game here, you can clearly see why.

"I think you can feel the buzz in the air, the crowd," Giordano said. "Everyone was excited for that one, to be honest.

"I think this is going to be a tough building to play in. If we play with that type of energy, our 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."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman often says the NHL looks at four criteria when it considers putting a franchise somewhere: the market, the building, the ownership and perhaps the biggest question. Does it make the NHL stronger?

The Kraken check all those boxes.

"We're in a great city and a great sports town, and we think the League is stronger by our presence here," Commissioner Bettman said.

Like Montreal, with its history and French flair, or Nashville, with its live country music and honkytonk vibe, or Vegas, with its spectacle on the Strip, Seattle has a strong sense of place.

You can take the monorail and disembark at the foot of the Space Needle in Seattle Center, a 74-acre campus of cultural attractions, many built for the 1962 World's Fair. 

You can listen to street musicians and grab a bite at food stands as you stroll through the park to the arena.

This is no cookie-cutter arena, either. It has the same low-profile, pyramid-like roof from the Seattle Center Coliseum that opened in 1962 and became KeyArena in 1994, but it's brand-new. To preserve the roof, a historic landmark, workers suspended all 44 million pounds of it on pillars, demolished everything underneath it, excavated 680,000 cubic yards of earth, built a 740,000-square-foot new arena and reattached it. The roof collects Seattle rainwater to make the ice.

The arena bowl is subterranean, so you enter near the top. But it seems submarine when you take the escalator down to the main concourse, with LED screens on the walls and even the ceiling displaying an undersea scene. It's as if you are descending into the deep, the Kraken's natural habitat.

You can sit among fans who brought their passion for other Seattle teams to the newest one. The Kraken became the 32nd team in the NHL after 32,000 people made season-ticket deposits in about a day via an online portal March 1, 2018.

Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke began the inaugural home opener by retiring No. 32 in their honor.

"Seattle, we did it!" Leiweke told the crowd.

Video: VAN@SEA: CEO, Tod Leiweke address fans before game

This was a hockey crowd. When goalie Philipp Grubauer was introduced and made big saves, the fans gave him a "Gruuuu!" as if he'd been here for years. As soon as the puck dropped and all throughout the night, the fans chanted, "Let's go, Kraken!" They were loud.

"I love it," Grubauer said. "I think the atmosphere was incredible for the first game. Unbelievable."

Giordano said, "That's right up there with anyone. There [weren't] too many moments where it was silent. Actually, there [weren't] any, to be honest. I mean, it was electric in there."

The Kraken leaned into the Seattle theme all night. Ann Wilson of the Seattle band Heart sang the U.S. national anthem, and Seattle artist Macklemore fired up the crowd. Seattle music played, from classic artists like the late Jimi Hendrix to up-and-comers. Seattle sports stars made appearances, from Sue Bird of the WNBA's Seattle Storm to Russell Wilson of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

A lot of thought went into every element, and the goal was to appeal to the locals.

"It's about the fans," said Jonny Greco, senior vice president of game presentation and live entertainment. "It's about the 32,000 original depositors. We want to say thank you to the people who brought this team here. We want to say thank you to this community.

"They've been waiting for a long time. They are ready to go, and we want to create an environment where they can enjoy it, all the work they did, all the time they've spent to get to this moment."

Ultimately, the Kraken want to win for them.

"That was outstanding," coach Dave Hakstol said. "It was an amazing atmosphere. The bottom line is, we want to reward the group in the stands with a win tonight. So, 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 tonight."

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