The Seattle Kraken pro team has been a hit in Kitsap County, not only due to its fan base, but also the interest in playing hockey.
Some of the fans were recently at the Bremerton Ice Center, the only ice rink in Kitsap.
The Hudkins family, from Silverdale, are diehard hockey fans. Cassidy competed for Elevate in the A division recreation league at the rink. He and sons Jaxen and Kouper attended a handful of Kraken games this season. Despite struggling this season, the Hudkins believed the fanbase was electric.
“It was very loud and aggressive,” Jaxen said.
Hudkins said: “The fan base was actually pretty good. They brought a lot of noise and joy to the game. It was almost better just to be there than to watch the game. The fan base gets into it like the whole 12th man (of the Seattle Seahawks).”
Alison Alexander of Bainbridge Island has been playing adult recreational hockey since she lived in Los Angeles when the LA Kings just picked up Wayne Gretzky. Although she is a Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks supporter, she followed the Kraken. After one season, she has mixed feelings on the Kraken’s fanbase.
“Climate Pledge Arena is a great place to see a game, but it doesn’t have the old culture,” Alexander said. “Being a Boston fan, I’ve seen games at the old Boston Garden. A lot of the fans are new; they don’t know some of the etiquette at a game. However, they have Kraken 101 that they put on Root Sports before the game for about half an hour.”
She did say new fans should watch Kraken 101 on ROOT Sports, a 30-minute pregame show that teaches fans the rules of an NHL game. For example, the show will describe the blue line and how that affects offsides calls, offenses and more. In addition, it discusses players positions like wings, centers, defenders and goalies.
However, Alexander said it will take time to build a loyal fan base.
“It’s like college, you’re not going to graduate in one year,” Alexander said. “You have to wait four years and have to study. In another four or five years, you will have a much more knowledgeable and stronger fan base.”
Although the Kraken are new to Seattle, they have made some impacts across the water; some have noticed growth of the sport in Kitsap County.
“If you look out on the rink, you see more people there now than a year ago,” Alexander said. “There are people out there wearing Kraken jerseys right now. There has been an increase, mainly at the youth level, but there have been adults. I have seen a guy who barely knew how to skate, but he probably wouldn’t have been here if the Kraken weren’t here.”
At the Bremerton rink, they have the West Sound Hockey Club for youth ages 5-18; two Co-Ed adult recreation leagues; hockey schools and clinics; and Stick and Puck, ice time designated for individual skill development.
Bremerton Ice Center has seen a spike in participation in every hockey aspect. For Stick and Puck, they have been filling all 20 spots within minutes. As for the adult leagues, there were six teams in the B division with 10-12 players per team in the winter season. As for the A division, there were four teams with 10-12 players each.
Cassidy Hudkins added when the Kraken arrived, his sons had five friends asking where they played hockey and how to start. Plus, some people he worked with discussed skating for the first time, wanting to buy gear to play.
Even though Bremerton’s Ice Center has seen a rise in participation, the fans believe they have been overlooked. In the Kraken’s first season, a handful of their coaches came to the ice center for a Try Hockey For Free event, a youth hockey clinic sponsored by USA Hockey. When the news broke, the event sold out within a day. But since then, the Kraken have not been back. Locals think that’s a mistake, adding targeting the youth can help build their market.
“We need more exposure from the team,” Hudkins said. “The youth coaches are growing the Junior Kraken but we need that pushed out here. We need a couple players to show up here and skate with the kids—that would be a huge difference.”
Alexander added: “I would start with the youth because the kids are the ones who are wanting to learn how to play. Also, they can give out a coupon or a ticket to a game. Then, the kids are the ones who will have their parents take them to a game.”
Still, hockey lovers are glad the Kraken is here. “I thought it was pretty cool because there was an NHL team in the Washington area, and everyone was rooting for the Kraken,” Jaxen said.
His dad added, “They just need that guy, a goal scorer.”
Most believe it will take time before success arrives in the Northwest. “I didn’t expect much because they were not going to let what happened to Vegas happen again,” Alexander said. “They did the best they could with what they had.”
In their first season, Las Vegas reached the Stanley Cup. From that experience, NHL front offices learned not to give anything better than third-line players to the Kraken. So, the Kraken were dealt average players and a handful of draft picks compared with the Golden Knights receiving all-stars and solid role players.