Many positives come with the NHL expansion franchise for Seattle. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Many positives come with the NHL expansion franchise for Seattle. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

WHL’s Thunderbirds, Silvertips open to NHL joining Seattle hockey market

TORONTO — The Seattle area’s major junior hockey teams aren’t worried about competing for fans with the NHL expansion franchise coming to town.

The real competition in the region has already been going on for years at the local level, and it’s high school football, not the NHL, that Seattle Thunderbirds vice-president of hockey operations Russ Farwell has on his mind when trying to draw new hockey fans.

“It’s not a small thing but Friday night is high school football in the fall, you have to be aware of that. Football’s big in this region,” Farwell said.

The Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips play in the Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division and are both within an hour drive of Seattle’s Key Arena, which is set to undergo an $800-million renovation in time for the 2021-22 NHL season.

Farwell, who has been with the Thunderbirds full-time since 1995 in various roles, including long-time owner before selling in 2017, was supportive of an NHL team entering the market when it was announced on Dec. 4 by league commissioner Gary Bettman.

He believes there could be many positives that come with an expansion team and that pro and amateur hockey are a different beast for various reasons, most notably the price point.

“For two NHL games you buy season tickets for Thunderbird hockey,” said Farwell. ”What we all face now is the competition for people’s time.”

“The other thing is we have free parking,” he quipped.

Farwell, originally from Peace River, Alta., is optimistic an NHL team in Seattle can help grow the game in the area, saying hockey is still a tough sell at a grassroots level.

“I don’t think any of us can tell you exactly what the impact will be,” Farwell said. ”We all have theories but we really think and hope the increased profile of the sport, which has been next to nothing in this area, will grow the overall base of fans and interest in the game and make up for any fans we would lose.”

Zoran Rajcic, vice president of Consolidated Sports Holdings Inc., which owns the Silvertips, agrees with Farwell.

“I think it’s positive, we’re a niche-oriented sport, even being less than hour from the Canadian border. I think the NHL will really raise the profile of hockey and the visibility of the sport.”

Farwell says talk of an NHL franchise in Seattle goes back at least a decade, and he prepared for it happening when the Thunderbirds moved out of KeyArena in 2009 and went 32 kilometres south to Kent, Wash., to play in the brand new ShoWare Center.

“We’ve been (in Kent) 10 years and (NHL expansion) was a big part of the discussion when they built the building,” said Farwell. ”We specifically suggested keeping the building at 6,000 seats… would help insulate us from a real strong negative hit if (expansion) were to happen. It was talked about that long ago.”

Rajcic says that with Everett’s location — 185 kilometres south of Vancouver and 320 kilometres north of Portland, Ore. — residents already get pro-team experiences in surrounding areas and it hasn’t affected the Silvertips negatively.

“We have fans that go to Vancouver Canucks games that are current season ticket holders and they go down south to the Trail Blazers basketball games in Portland,” said Rajcic. ”We’ve always had relevant sports for people to go to. The NHL, outside of a few markets, you’re looking at $150 a ticket on the low end. You’re getting 10 people into our game for that.”

Four cities are currently supporting both pro and junior hockey teams with some success.

The Edmonton Oil Kings share Rogers Arena with the Oilers and the Calgary Hitmen play in Scotiabank Saddledome with Flames. The Vancouver Giants, playing out of nearby Langley, B.C., have the Canucks, while the Ottawa 67’s play within 20 minutes of Canadian Tire Centre, home of the Senators.

Junior hockey has been in Seattle since 1977, when the Breakers joined the Western Canada Hockey League, a junior-A league at the time, that eventually became the WHL in 1982.

The club took on the Thunderbirds name in 1985-86 when the organization was purchased by new ownership. Their colours are navy blue, green and white and the logo depicts a thunderbird totem.

The Silvertips were founded in 2003 with forest green, brown and silver colours and have a grizzly bear logo.

Both teams have been able to get respectable numbers into their buildings in recent seasons, with Seattle No. 7 (4,625) and Everett No. 8 (4,617) in attendance this year among the 22 WHL clubs.

Rajcic even expects his team’s attendance to increase now that the fall has come and gone.

“We’ve gotten through the worst part with high school football September through November. Sold-out building this weekend for us, we’re just getting to where the season picks up and we don’t have as much competition at the local level.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Paul Harris, owner of Tribe restaurant downtown, said a lot of the blame for the latest restrictions that will close outdoor patios on Sunday can be blamed on those not obeying health regulations and the government for failing to enforce the rules.
Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff
Restaurant owners frustrated by patio shutdowns

Outdoor patios must stop serving by midnight Sunday to stem rising COVID infections

The City of Red Deer said Wednesday that some outdoor activity rentals will be available starting Monday for households only. (Advocate File Photo)
City of Red Deer outlines activities available as new provincial COVID-19 restrictions set in

There will be limited recreation activities available across the City of Red… Continue reading

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 2,271 new COVID-19 cases, Red Deer cases rise slightly

Across Alberta, there are 666 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 146 in the ICU

‘Love, Oran’ is a documentary feature made by Red Deer-raised filmmaker Colin Scheyen. It’s about hidden letters, found in a Woodlea home after 70 years, revealing a family secret. (Screenshot by Advocate staff).
Hidden letters reveal secrets of Red Deer family in a new documentary film

‘Love, Oran,’ by filmmaker Colin Scheyen is showing at Edmonton’s NorthwestFest

Red Deer Rebels’ three graduating players, Josh Tarzwell (left), Chris Douglas (middle) and Ethan Anders (right) will all move on to new opportunities next season. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
‘It was a rollercoaster’: Rebels’ graduating players look back on wild season

The nerves. Even three-and-a-half-years later, Josh Tarzwell still remembers the nervousness he… Continue reading

In this Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020 file photo, the logo of Apple is illuminated at a store in the city center of Munich, Germany. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Matthias Schrader
Dependent on social media’s marketing power, small businesses worry over iOS changes

Dependent on social media’s marketing power, small businesses worry over iOS changes

Enbridge company logos on display at the company's annual meeting in Calgary on May 12, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Line 3 and Line 5 pipelines in U.S. ‘absolutely critical,’ says Enbridge CEO

Line 3 and Line 5 pipelines in U.S. ‘absolutely critical,’ says Enbridge CEO

A sign board displays the TSX's close in Toronto's financial district on Monday, Dec. 31, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
TSX outpaces U.S. stock markets on lift from commodities while tech under pressure

TSX outpaces U.S. stock markets on lift from commodities while tech under pressure

The Barrick Gold logo is seen during the company's annual general meeting in Toronto on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Barrick Gold expects growing exposure to copper as price escalation boosts Q1 profits

Barrick Gold expects growing exposure to copper as price escalation boosts Q1 profits

Outdoor retailers struggle to stock tents, backpacks ahead of second COVID summer

Outdoor retailers struggle to stock tents, backpacks ahead of second COVID summer

FILE - Broadway posters hang outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre during Covid-19 lockdown in New York on May 13, 2020. Many Broadway productions are scrambling to resume ticket sales to welcome theater-goers this fall after city and state leaders have green-lit a reopening of the Great White Way at full capacity. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Broadway theaters can reopen Sept. 14 and will be allowed to decide their own entry requirements. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
Broadway readies imminent ticket sales for a fall reopening

Broadway readies imminent ticket sales for a fall reopening

This photo shows a love letter that John F. Kennedy wrote to a Swedish paramour a few years after he married Jacqueline Bouvier, according to Boston-based RR Auction. The auction house says Kennedy wrote letters to aristocrat Gunilla von Post in 1955 and 1956, and announced, Wednesday, May 5, 2021, that they will be going up for auction. (Nikki Brickett/ RR Auction via AP)
‘Anxious to see you:’ JFK letters to Swedish lover auctioned

‘Anxious to see you:’ JFK letters to Swedish lover auctioned

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on during a press conference in the rotunda at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday May 6, 2020. British Columbia is offering tangible recognition of the historical wrongs caused by the province when it interned thousands of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. gives $2M to Japanese Canadian seniors as step toward righting internment wrongs

B.C. gives $2M to Japanese Canadian seniors as step toward righting internment wrongs

Most Read