What Seattle’s NHL team means to me

The 1990’s feel like forever ago. The 1990’s feel like yesterday. Now let me throw on some Screaming Trees and Stone Temple Pilots so we can take it way back.

The 90’s feel like a weird, almost counterfactual time compared to 2018, with the Seahawks being so bad, Mike Milbury knowing what he was talking about, the Sonics still dominating the Pacific, and the Mariners refusing to lose. Being a child of the mid-80’s, most of my sports-related memories start in and around the early 90’s.

The first Seahawks season I distinctly remember was 1992. What a time to start watching huh? I made it to my first game the next season when I was eight years old. It was a Week 16 contest versus the then Phoenix Cardinals.

They lost.

In those days, they lost a lot.

The era of Ken Griffey Jr, Cortez Kennedy, and Gary Payton feels like a lifetime ago; they feel like yesterday.

Some of my favorite sporting memories from the 90’s, though, aren’t professional. My biological dad wasn’t around much growing up — that’s the polite way of calling him a deadbeat — so I looked elsewhere for male role models. My older cousin Peter was one of the people I came to. Peter was a few years older than me, tall, strong, and played ice hockey around the South Puget Sound.

To me, a scrawny only child living in East Bremerton, he was my hero.

I don’t remember where exactly the sheet of ice was, but I remember my mom driving me to one of his games. The building was old, the carpet brown and musky. It felt ancient back then and I can’t help but wonder if it’s even still standing. But in those stands — watching my cousin fly up and down the ice, laying hits, passing the puck — a hockey fan was born.

Soon after, in July of 1992 I received a monumental pair of birthday gifts: roller blades from my grandparents and a street hockey stick from my cousin. There wasn’t an ice arena in East Bremerton in those days, and even if there were, we’d have been too poor for me to play. It was the greatest combination of gifts I had ever received. The concrete courtyard of our little duplex became my ice rink.

Sporting a long blond mullet and a San Jose Sharks shirt, you could find me spending every warm Washington summer day skating back and forth around the tree planters, shooting the roller hockey ball into the recycling bin, falling down way too often, and having the time of my life.

A few years later, I would get a Sega Genesis and NHL ’94 for Christmas. My grandparents couldn’t afford to support both my mother and me while she was trying to claw her way out of the welfare system, but it has never been lost on me just how much they contributed to help me have a more normal childhood. We didn’t have cable then — we couldn’t afford it — so I didn’t get to watch my beloved Sharks very often.

But I could do something almost as good: I could play as them on my Sega.

And play as them I would for hours; for days; through the wet winters; through the snow storm of 1996. I couldn’t play in real life, but this was almost as good, wasn’t it?

Oh if only Seattle had a team. Then I could watch. I didn’t understand the state of the NHL at the time, nor why football was on once a week but hockey never was. All I knew is that I loved the sport.

But we moved again. My cousin and I saw each other less, and I realized that I would probably never play hockey.

It feels silly to get sentimental over a team we never really had, but I was; I am.

I moved east for college in 2003, during the same timeframe that Bremerton finally got an ice arena. I began following the Washington Capitals around 2008. Living on the East Coast made watching them easy, as they were the “other” Washington, and there was this kid named Alex Ovechkin. Are you kidding me? The guy was special. Plus, their rivalry with the Penguins was growing and I was still fresh enough off the Super Bowl 40 loss to hate all things Pittsburgh. Besides, what if Seattle ever got a team? Better to cheer East Coast than for a rival right? Right.

But I still couldn’t afford to play. I tried not to think about it. All I wanted to do was play hockey. Of course I longed to play goalie, which has the most expensive gear. Damn it Sean. Of course it does.

I put on ice skates for the first time in 2013. It was in Nuremburg, Germany, and I had just returned from my first deployment to Afghanistan. I made a promise to myself while I was there: when I got back, if I got back, I was going to do all of the things that I had always wanted to do but hadn’t for whatever reason. Money, fear, apprehension, anxiety; whatever the barrier was, I wasn’t going to let it stand in my way.

I immediately fell on my ass. Every day after work I would drive to Nuremburg and skate for hours. First I fell a lot. Then only a little. Then hardly at all.

Less than a month later I bought some used goalie pads off of someone on Reddit and was finally playing.

I was terrible.

Over the years I’ve gotten less terrible and, when I returned to school in 2016, I played hockey for Stanford. “Isn’t Stanford a club team?” you may ask. Shut up, I played college hockey okay? I don’t go pooing on your dreams.

My love of hockey began as a young kid who thought he’d never play, looking up to an older relative, using a video game as a facsimile of life. My love for hockey never left me, nor did I ever completely lose hope that Seattle would have a team of its own.

You and I are about to have an NHL team. Can you believe it?

It doesn’t feel real. But it should. It’s really happening. Some kid in East Bremerton now has hometown ice to play on, and has a local team on the way. Some kid in Kitsap County can have the childhood that I dreamt of, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

So what does having an NHL team mean to me? It’s the end of a 33 year journey of waiting.

It’s the beginning of something beautiful.

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