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NHL Seattle sees Thunderbirds as an ally in raising hockey’s profile locally

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

KENT – Seattle Thunderbirds defenseman Simon Kubicek had a big game Saturday night against the Edmonton Oil Kings. He scored twice in the win and the 2020 NHL Draft eligible import has four goals in his last two outings. It’s probably too soon for NHL scouts to start tracking him but Kubicek’s performance did take place in front of the group hoping to bring the NHL to Seattle in 2020.

Seattle Hockey Partner’s CEO Tod Leiweke, along with Senior Advisor Dave Tippett and other NHL Seattle staff attended Saturday’s game at the accesso ShoWare Center.

“It’s so much fun watching these kids play their hearts out,” Leiweke said.  “I’m wearing my Thunderbirds gear proudly. This is our team.”

Leiweke, who was sporting a Thunderbirds hoodie, has spoken regularly about his desire to grow the sport of hockey in the Seattle area. Last week he announced that they would be building an impressive $70 million, three-sheet practice facility at Northgate Mall.

Those additional three rinks will benefit local youth hockey and help grow the sport.

That growth includes working with the Thunderbirds to further strengthen the hockey community. It’s something that the Thunderbirds are also on board with.

“Our take on it is that it’s making hockey even more relevant in the Seattle market,” Thunderbirds Vice President Colin Campbell said. “We’ve been here 40 years, the (Everett) Silvertips have been here for 15 now. There’re strong roots with hockey here but with the NHL coming it’s just going to legitimize it even more. Three new rinks going up in the north end and we hope that it grows down in this end as well and more kids can play and grow the sport.”

Campbell says that the Thunderbirds have been in a couple of meetings with the NHL Seattle group already and feels that more concrete partnerships can be worked on once the group gets the official approval from the NHL in December.

Leiweke echoed similar sentiment Saturday.

“I think they could actually help us,” he said about the Thunderbirds. “I think there is a lot of things we can do to help them. That’s part of the commitment we’ve made to make hockey better here.”

With the NHL’s arrival there has been concern among the junior hockey fans about how major league hockey may affect the Western Hockey League teams in the Puget Sound region.

Will the NHL push the Thunderbirds and Silvertips out of the area?

“If that happens, shame on us,” Leiweke said. “That’s not our intent, the intent is to build more hockey fans. I think we will. We’re going to create interest in hockey like never before and it’s going to create more fans for everyone. The higher the tide, all boats will rise and that’s what’s going to happen here.”

There is still work to be done before the NHL team is officially awarded and then even a couple more years before they are playing games. Saturday night was part of the connection between NHL Seattle and the Thunderbirds but it was also about enjoying some hockey.

Hockey being played by guys wearing ‘Seattle’ across their chests.

“I haven’t been to a junior game in some number of years,” Leiweke said. “It’s awesome, great building, great fans, great logo. I hope we can do as well, it’s beautiful. I’m looking at these players thinking ‘there might be a kid out there who continues to wear Seattle on his jersey’.”

Does that mean Leiweke was doing some early scouting of 2020 draft eligible players like Kubicek, Payton Mount, and Tyrel Bauer?

“God forbid if I’m the guy doing that,” he said with a laugh.