As the Seattle Kraken NHL team prepared for its first regular-season home game in franchise history, Tribune-area hockey gurus reflected on the state of the game locally and the influence the Kraken might have upon it.
The Kraken already paid a goodwill visit to Palouse Ice Rink in Moscow earlier this year and featured it in a promotional video called “SightSEAing with Fitz, ep. 2: Hockey in the PNW.” Founded 20 years ago and situated at the Latah County Fairgrounds, the Palouse rink has roughly three-quarters of a full-sized regulation hockey ice sheet at about 60 feet by 150 feet — but a new, full-sized rink is now set to be built in Moscow at the site of the former Northwest River Supplies warehouse.
The warehouse sale was brokered by Tony Mangini, an NRS employee who is also a member of the Palouse Ice Rink board of directors.
“It’s pretty exciting to see hockey get back to the Pacific Northwest, and it’s something we’ve been working on here in Moscow,” Mangini said. “We couldn’t have a better time to finally have a full sheet of ice and really deliver to the community what we’ve been promising for a long time.”
The new rink will be known as the Parks Activity Recreation Center, after NRS founders Bill and Donna Parks, and is set to open next year. Palouse Youth Hockey Association president Chet Hervey believes the confluence of the new Pacific Northwest-based professional team and fresh local venue will signal a major rise in area hockey interest.
“Gauging by the kind of enthusiasm around the Kraken already among the existing hockey families and kids, I think it’s going to cause an explosion of hockey,” said Hervey, an ex-Californian who came to the area in 2014. “That’s just what happened when I was a kid. The San Jose Sharks expanded when I was a kid, and a hockey craze just kind of took over. Coupled with our expansion into a full-sized sheet, I think that’s going to be a huge explosion.
“One of the big benefits of moving to the new location is, right now we have pretty severe hour restrictions, being in a tent,” he continued. “We’ll have expanded hours and an expanded season, being as we’re not in a tent; we’re in a building we can climate-control. We can accommodate more adults, kids and families, so we’re pretty psyched about the whole thing.”
The PYHA is represented on the ice by the Palouse Bears youth hockey franchise, which makes its home at the Moscow rink and fields players across several age divisions from Moscow, Pullman, Troy and Potlatch. At the high school level, the Bears were Idaho state champions in 2019 and runners-up in 2020.
Among the Bears’ regional rivals are the Lewis-Clark Lightning, who are based out of the LC Ice Arena on the northern edge of Lewiston. The two franchises were founded contemporaneously in the mid-to-late 2000s, got their start practicing against one another, and still meet regularly at events through the season.
The creation of the Lewiston rink in 2004 was spearheaded by hockey enthusiast Bill Sugden, who slept at the venue for weeks at a time as he worked to get it up and running. It first opened with a plastic synthetic-ice surface, then gained a proper ice sheet a year later. Much like in Moscow, there have been grassroots initiatives for some years for the construction of a second ice arena in the valley, though none has yet been commissioned.
“I think there’s a pretty strong hockey culture that the people don’t realize,” said Bobby Hills, one of the founders of the Lightning youth program. “If we were to get two full-sized sheets here, we could start hosting the Idaho state hockey high school championships, which is held every year, but you have to have two sheets of ice to do it.”
Also like their counterparts on the Palouse, valley hockey honchos are optimistic that the Kraken will inspire a renaissance of interest in their programs.
“Really, the game at its highest level is always an influence, especially with kids that are interested,” Sugden said. “So, much like the Seahawks regionally give the kids something to latch onto as a hometown team, if you were, all of this stuff plays a big part. You’ll see in the future as the Kraken franchise grows and reaches out that they’ll have an impact all over the region on youth hockey.”
Hills agreed, noting that “adult-onset hockey” is also a real phenomenon, and one whose increase would be welcome.
The Kraken (1-3-1) face the Vancouver Canucks (1-2-1) Saturday at 7 p.m. in Seattle’s new Climate Pledge Arena.
Wendt may be contacted at email@example.com, or (208) 848-2268.