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New Thunderbirds’ owners happy to be part of the local community

The Thunderbirds are welcoming of the NHL to the Seattle area (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

It was just this past Tuesday that Seattle Thunderbirds’ goalie Liam Hughes stared down Vancouver Giants’ Brad Morrisson in the shootout. Hughes had to stop the Vancouver shooter to preserve a win in front of the home crowd in the ShoWare Center. Morrisson skated in and Hughes forced him to shoot the puck wide and Seattle picked up the victory.

There were a lot of smiles and high fives in the stands after that but perhaps no smiles were as big as those from Dan and Lindsey Leckelt.

The two brothers, and business partners, had just the week prior officially become the new owners of the Thunderbirds as the team’s sale from Russ Farwell’s ownership group was approved by the WHL’s Board of Governors. The Edmonton based co-CEO’s of the Silent-Aire corporation not only were proud of the win on the ice, but of achieving a long standing goal.

“It’s a dream come true for us,” Dan Leckelt said. “We were strategically planning three to four years out as our target but when the Thunderbirds approached us with a potential sale we couldn’t pass that up and decided to make it happen.”

While the brothers hail from Alberta, they are no strangers to Seattle and its surrounding area.

They have had a Seattle office for their business for well over a decade, have been season ticket holders for the Seahawks for eight of those years, and even have a couple of ex-Thunderbirds working for their company. They look at Seattle as their adopted home, so getting a chance to be involved in the WHL and with the Thunderbirds was an exciting opportunity.

“It was a way for us to give back to a community that helped us along the say so much over the last decade and a half of business,” Lindsey said. “It couldn’t have come from a better organization and we had an opportunity to see a couple playoff games last year, got to see the fan base. We saw that these are the best WHL fans in hockey and we wanted to be part of that.”

Owning a hockey team isn’t a new venture for the Leckelts.

They own the AAA Stoney Plain Eagles Senior franchise – a team they both played over a decade for – as well as the Junior A Spruce Grove Jr. Saints in Alberta.

Lindsey says that they will still maintain their relationship with those teams and have established strong management staff with each franchise. Something they already see in place with the Thunderbirds.

“Russ (Farwell) and Colin (Campbell) are staying on for an extended period here and making the transition seamless,” he added. “There are no plans to make any major changes. The staff is outstanding and we’re just happy to have the honor of being the guys Russ and Colin asked to carry the torch.”

The two were already used to making regular, almost monthly visits, to Seattle for business but now see the potential for that to increase with the Thunderbirds. The team will be heading out on its swing through Alberta in early November and the Leckelt’s are excited to see their new team in their home town for the first time.

“Both Dan and I are really excited about being able to have our kids and family be part of that,” Lindsey says of the trip. “Having them be able to partake in some of the game festivities during that trip is going to be pretty awesome. We’re going to try to meet some of the kids’ families during the same trip.”

The Leckelt’s are jumping into the Seattle sports scene at an interesting time.

With the pending proposal for a rebuilt Key Arena and the potential for an NHL franchise to end up in Seattle, was there any trepidation about buying a junior club in the same market?

“We feel that we would encourage it,” Dan said of a potential NHL team in Seattle. “It would build fans for the game and this provides a good level of entertainment for the average household. In Edmonton, a (NHL) seat is $300 a seat, a family of four is $1200 just to get there. That’s not sustainable, so the junior teams in big markets with NHL teams thrive because that family can get to more than one game a year.”

With the transition, a new era of Thunderbirds hockey has started. There may not be noticeable changes on the ice from the outset but the brothers hinted that they are looking at different and new ways for fan engagement, promotion, and marketing.

“Lindsey’s the creative one and he’s already been tossing a few ideas,” Dan said with a chuckle. “I know the group is way more creative than I am, the wiener dog races were pretty impressive. Lindsey has a few tricks up his sleeve that he’s going to throw the group’s way.”

The Thunderbirds will next be in action this Saturday night when they host the Moose Jaw Warriors at the ShoWare Center.