Years of waiting finally end as Kraken debuts at home

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SEATTLE (AP) – In Seattle’s hierarchy of influencers in sports history, Ken Johnsen’s name is unlikely to be found even though his fingerprints are all over the landscape.

Over two decades ago, Johnsen was heavily involved in building the stadium now named T-Mobile Park that kept the Mariners from relocating and driving Major League Baseball away from Seattle.

For the past three years, Johnsen has overseen the construction of the Climate Pledge Arena, which has helped attract the NHL and perhaps could bring the NBA back to Seattle one day.

He is an expert in the construction of sports venues. But in his essence, Johnsen is a fan, a Seattle native who still feels the loss of the NBA SuperSonics 13 years ago. But he can’t wait to be in the building on Saturday night when the Seattle expansion Kraken plays its first home game against the Vancouver Canucks.

“Anyone who’s working on this project will tell you it’s as fun as it gets,” Johnsen said. “You are building a new building. You’re building a new franchise, and you’re building it in a place that’s just perfect. We’re sort of a startup in many ways. I came to Sonics games when I was a teenager. And I looked at the (Seattle) Totems here. I’m going out with me but I saw the Beatles here.

When the Kraken takes the ice against Vancouver, nearly 5,000 days will have passed since the closing chants of “Super … Sonics” rang out on the same site in the old KeyArena.

April 13, 2008 marked the closing of a chapter. October 23, 2021 is the start of a new one. And it doesn’t matter that Seattle started the season 1-3-1 on their first five-game road trip. The home opener will be a celebration, regardless of the record.

“We’re a veteran enough group that we use them to our advantage,” said Kraken coach Dave Hakstol. “Take a few minutes to figure it all out and really enjoy it, then feed on the energy that will be in the building tomorrow night. “

The return of a professional winter sports franchise offers a cathartic release for hockey fans who had begged for the NHL in this part of the country and for sports fans in general who have felt incomplete since the day the SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City and became Thunder.

The Krakens are no replacement for the beloved NBA franchise, which has left a void for fans of the Pacific Northwest.

But that doesn’t take away from what the arrival of the Kraken represents. It was the potential for the NHL to come to Seattle that spurred the billion dollar project to essentially build a new arena under the historic rooftop of what had been KeyArena, where Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp once held. delighted thousands of people.

The Kraken hope to inspire thunderous chants of “Gru” for Philipp Grubauer’s saves, screams for quick fan favorite Brandon Tanev and possibly host Stanley Cup playoff games.

“The whole city has scheduled (Saturday) on their calendar so I think it’s going to be great,” said Grubauer.

At the very least, the arrival of the Kraken offers something to look forward to during these cold months when the rain falls sideways and the sun disappears shortly after 4 p.m. For decades, those nights were generating buzz about the NBA star in town.

Now there is another league and stars like Sidney Crosby, Austin Matthews or Connor McDavid to look forward to.

And, of course, cheering on the hometown team.

“We get to be part of something that few guys can say they have at the end of their careers and in the history of the game,” said Kraken captain Mark Giordano. “It will be a pretty special moment for us as players, for our organization, for the city, for everyone involved. ”

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