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Seattle mayor inspired to win NHL expansion bid by Stanley Cup visit

Durkan sees lucrative hockey future for city with League's 32nd team

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

SEATTLE -- Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan looked at the past and thought of the future.

Spread before her were the spoils of Seattle sports to that point last December: a Vince Lombardi Trophy won by the NFL's Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII; two WNBA championship trophies won by the Storm, in 2004 and 2010; a Larry O'Brien Trophy won by the NBA's SuperSonics in 1979 and …

The Stanley Cup.


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It had been a century since the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association became the first U.S. team to win the Cup, defeating the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey Association 3-1 in a best-of-5 series at Seattle Ice Arena.

Video: Mayor Durkan on how Seattle, NHL are a perfect fit

The Hockey Hall of Fame brought the Cup to town to celebrate the 100th anniversary, and the Seattle Sports Commission gathered the trophies at City Hall. Durkan donned a replica Metropolitans jersey for the occasion.

"To be in the same room with the Stanley Cup is pretty amazing," Durkan said. "But then to see all the other trophies for the Storm, for the Sonics, for the Seahawks, and be thinking …"

She paused.

"It was the beginning," she said. "It's like, 'We're going to have bookends. We are the first [U.S. city to win the] Stanley Cup, and I want to have another Stanley Cup [championship] here."

Seattle will chase the Cup again starting in 2021-22. The NHL Board of Governors approved its expansion application Tuesday.

Durkan, elected mayor in 2017, spent months working with the Leiweke brothers before the Seattle City Council voted in favor of the arena project Sept. 24. Tim Leiweke is CEO of the Oak View Group, the company leading the privately financed $800 million-plus renovation of KeyArena. Tod is the CEO of NHL Seattle.

"The thing I really love about them is, they will tell you what they can do, and they will tell you what they can't do, and it's a true partnership," Durkan said. "We were both tough negotiators, and so there was a lot of, you know, back-and-forth and give-and-take. At times everyone was saying it wasn't going to get done, but we knew we were both going to stay at the table and get it done."

When NHL Seattle made its presentation to the NHL Executive Committee in New York on Oct. 2, Durkan was there to speak on behalf of the city. Among the questions she was asked: Is Seattle really going to fall in love with hockey?

"The answer to that is yes," Durkan said. "There is so much thirst for a team in Seattle, and hockey really fits the character of Seattle."

Durkan extols Seattle's love of sports, its grittiness and work ethic, its entrepreneurial spirit. The area is the birthplace of companies like Amazon, Boeing, Costco, Microsoft and Nordstrom. It has an educated, affluent, growing population.

"If you want hockey to really be the sport that endures for the next generation, there's no better place than Seattle, because we're the place that invents that future," Durkan said. "We have the companies today that have those employees that will not just be the fan base today, but they and their families will be the fan base of the future."

Yes, Seattle is still bitter the Sonics left for Oklahoma City to become the Thunder in 2008. Yes, the city wants an NBA team again. That doesn't mean it doesn't want an NHL team.

"People want both," Durkan said. "But right now we are thrilled to have a hockey team. I've got a lot of friends whose kids have played hockey and come up in hockey. It's hard to do it in Seattle. We don't have the sheets of ice. You've got to travel for competition. There's no professional hockey team here. I think we're not only going to have a new sports team. I think it is going to increase the culture of skating and hockey in the whole region."

The KeyArena renovation will help Seattle Center, the park-like campus of cultural attractions downtown built for the 1962 World's Fair. A $75 million training center in Northgate, a shopping area in the north of the city, will have three ice sheets to provide more opportunities for people to skate.

"I think that rejuvenating that Seattle Center so it again becomes the heart of our city and looks to the future is going to give that next generation of Seattleites the same love for city that I've had," Durkan said. "We are in a process of rejuvenating that area, and this will be the cornerstone. It's going to be a world-class arena that brings back the Stanley Cup, that has the Seattle Storm on its next championship run, that brings the best music acts anywhere. It's going to be fantastic.

"And then at Northgate, that practice facility, I think, will change not only that area but will give a new place, a new destination, for families to go and to enjoy themselves and a sport that has been underutilized here."

Video: The crew discusses the expansion to Seattle

Imagine a renovated arena packed with people in NHL Seattle jerseys. Imagine Seattle winning the Stanley Cup again.

"Sports bring people together in a way that nothing else does," Durkan said. "Whenever you walk into an arena or on a field, whether it's the Seahawks or the Mariners or the Storm, you see every kind of person of every age. They probably have all range of political beliefs. The only thing that matters in that moment is their team. They have fun together. They laugh together. They scream together. They are mad at the refs together. And in the end, they leave feeling connected.

"And so I think that sports play a really important part of civic life, because it's the one place we can all walk in the door and we're all walking in as Seattle fans."

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