Kraken superfans ready for first NHL game years in the making

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John Barr and Paul Buxton wore the red, green and cream of the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, who became the first U.S. team to win the Stanley Cup when they defeated the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey Association in 1917, months before the NHL was founded.

Each had been part of the crowd lining the red carpet outside earlier and grabbed a photo with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, talking to him about expansion to Seattle when there were no plans yet. Buxton had gotten autographs from Golden Knights players, so he had a Sharpie and some blank paper.

Right there in the stands, Buxton made a sign and posted it against the glass.

“I just wrote the first thing that that popped into my head, which was, ‘WE WANT THE NHL NEXT!'” Buxton said.

Well, now they’ve got it.

The Seattle Kraken will play the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS) in their first regular-season game, and Barr and Buxton will be back in the stands, this time in Kraken jerseys, along with many more Seattle fans.

Buxton brought back the sign and said has something special planned for warmup.

“It’ll probably be pretty emotional, especially given we were there four years ago,” Buxton said. “That same exact building, having our first team, that’s something you can’t really make up. … The fact that we have an NHL team in Seattle, when at one time it seemed impossible, it’s going to be an incredible feeling.”

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To say Barr and Buxton have been dreaming of this since Oct. 10, 2017, wouldn’t be accurate. They have been dreaming of it for far longer.

Barr has been the leader of the grassroots movement to bring an NHL team to Seattle, and created NHLtoSeattle.com in early 2013. He describes Buxton as the person, other than his wife, Arlene Martin, who has been probably the most supportive on this journey.

For years there were many disappointments and lonely moments.

There is a photo of Barr and Buxton together at a city council meeting July 21, 2012. Barr is in a red Chicago Blackhawks jersey; Buxton is in a teal San Jose Sharks jersey and hat, arms crossed. They’re surrounded by fans in green and yellow pleading for an arena deal to bring back the NBA, heartbroken their beloved Seattle SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City and became the Thunder in 2008.

“You never know if Paul wasn’t there what that would have done to me,” Barr said. “It was harder to rally people then.”

Each came to the inaugural home opener in Vegas on his own, but they had plans to meet up. It’s telling that they didn’t plan to wear matching Metropolitans jerseys but ended up looking like twins.

“I went to Vegas not to represent Seattle by any means,” Barr said. “It was just to be part of something special.”

Buxton said: “That whole trip was inspired by just wanting to know what it was like for an expansion team to start, for a new team to be born, a new fan base to be born. … At that point we weren’t sure what was going to happen, if we were going to get a team or not. There was some talk about it, but we weren’t sure. And so I thought it’d be cool to go to the first game just to soak it in.”

Remember: Four ownership groups reportedly were interested in an NHL expansion team in Seattle, but none applied for a franchise when Vegas did. The lack of a suitable arena was the main issue. In fact, when Barr and Buxton stopped Commissioner Bettman separately on the red carpet, it came up each time.

It was hard for Barr to watch the Golden Knights come to life.

“In all honesty, I was a little jealous once I saw it happening,” he said. “At the time I was already at it for years, and so it was a sense of, ‘This was supposed to be us.’ I thought we had our ducks in a row, and we didn’t, obviously.”

At the same time, Barr felt something else, because so many people had said the NHL wouldn’t work in Las Vegas and the city already was buzzing about the Golden Knights, who would make the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season and turn T-Mobile Arena into a unique, raucous environment.

“I believe in hockey and I believe in the NHL more than anything, and I believe hockey can be successful anywhere,” Barr said. “And if you don’t believe that, then you just don’t believe in hockey. And so, granted, I didn’t know how successful Vegas was going to be, but being part of it at opening night, kind of proving the world wrong a little bit, I was really proud of them in a way.”

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Now Barr and Buxton can be proud of Seattle, and they can say they have been there step by step.

Barr was at The Angry Beaver hockey bar with Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a member of the prospective ownership group, on Feb. 28, 2018. He was with them for a photo shoot at the Space Needle the next day, when Oak View Group held a season-ticket drive and drew 10,000 deposits in 12 minutes, 24,000 in an hour and 32,000 in 31 hours.

He was at Chihuly Garden and Glass when NHL Seattle announced Tod Leiweke as CEO on April 11, 2018; at Henry’s Tavern in Seattle for the expansion announcement party Dec. 4, 2018; and at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new arena under the iconic roof of the former KeyArena near the Space Needle the next day.

Barr has become a volunteer board member of the One Roof Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena.

Buxton was at Henry’s Tavern too. He was picked as a fan representative to be part of a pre-taped segment announcing the Kraken’s selection of Carsen Twarynski from the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21, and he attended the expansion draft at Gas Works Park in Seattle, seated next to Barr, of course.

Each went to see the Kraken play the Vancouver Canucks in Spokane, Washington, on Sept. 26 in their first preseason game. When they attend the Kraken’s first regular-season game Tuesday, they plan to meet up and watch warmup in the Seattle end.

“I always said, ‘I’m not going to believe it until they drop the puck at center ice at the first game,’ and that moment is just about 24 hours away,” Barr said Monday. “I don’t know what to do. I went to a couple preseason games, and that was surreal in itself. But Tuesday night is going to be, like … I don’t even know. I can’t explain it, and there’s going to be a lot of emotion.”

As part of his campaign, Barr used to sell NHL to Seattle stickers and T-shirts, and he asked people to wear their T-shirts to NHL arenas and send him pictures to post on his site.

Buxton wore his NHL to Seattle T-shirt underneath his Metropolitans jersey to Vegas’ inaugural home opener. He plans to wear it under his Kraken jersey Tuesday and again at Seattle’s inaugural home opener Oct. 23.

“Then,” he said, “I’ll consider it retired.”

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