SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken held their first two practices of their inaugural training camp Thursday and Friday. Then they staged their first scrimmage Saturday, wearing full uniforms in front of fans for the first time at the Kraken Community Iceplex, their new practice facility.
Now, already, comes their first preseason game. They play the Vancouver Canucks at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on Sunday, a big step for an expansion team building on the fly, a chance for everyone from the hockey team to the entertainment team to build chemistry and prepare for the real show.
“We are moving fast here,” forward Joonas Donskoi said.
The coaches and players have never worked together before as a group. Through three days of camp, they have installed parts of their systems. They haven’t had a chance to work on special teams. And they’re going to play another NHL team? Even if it’s just a preseason game?
Yes. What’s important is that the Kraken will be ready to open the regular season at the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 12, and coach Dave Hakstol has a plan mapped out.
“We know we’re going to be far from a finished product as we hit the ice for the first exhibition game and really all the way through the exhibition season,” Hakstol said. “We’ll try to add blocks to that foundation every day as we go forward. Whether it’s a practice day or a game day, we’ll try to build a little bit, but we’re not trying to get to the finish line here.”
Same goes for the entertainment team, led by Jonny Greco, senior vice president of game presentation and live entertainment, and Lamont Buford, vice president of game presentation.
“Lamont says this all the time, and I love this line,” Greco said. “‘We are not getting close to the finish line. We’re getting close to the starting line.'”
The entertainment team is preparing for the home opener against the Canucks on Oct. 23 and beyond. Problem is, construction crews are putting the finishing touches on Climate Pledge Arena, the new arena being built under the iconic roof of the former KeyArena near the Space Needle. The Kraken will play three preseason “home” games in junior hockey rinks away from what will be their spectacular home.
“We’re not playing with our toys,” Greco said.
A bus of staff members will leave Seattle at about 7 a.m. PT on Sunday to drive more than four hours east to Spokane, Washington. The coaches and players will skate in the morning, and the game group will fly to Spokane.
“[This] is our first opportunity to all be together in a building and put on a show for our fans,” Greco said.
This will be the first game for the PA announcer and in-arena host. The Kraken will play some of the music they have planned for home games, using a playlist they have been curating for months, and some of the video content they plan to use.
There will be trial and error. For example, they likely will experiment with a couple of goal songs in the preseason before deciding on one for the regular season.
“It’s an audition,” Greco said. “It’s a tryout. It’s a practice. It’s a rehearsal. You try to hit a couple moments really big, but we’re not trying to do anything crazy.”
Hakstol has kept line combinations and defense pairings stable though the first three days of camp to give them time to build chemistry, and he likely will keep them stable for at least the first preseason game.
Everyone in hockey and entertainment will evaluate the performance after the game Sunday and decide if changes need to be made.
“In my opinion, games are the best practices,” Donskoi said. “We can get some videos, and we can look at that stuff. It’s always easier when you get to play games and work that way. I feel it’s easier than just practice.”
The Canucks are a fitting first opponent in both the preseason and the regular season. Vancouver is the natural geographic rival of Seattle. Kraken president and CEO Tod Leiweke’s first NHL experience came with the Canucks. Kraken COO Victor de Bonis spent almost a quarter century with them before this.
“It’s a bit surreal, the whole experience,” de Bonis said. “You’re with one franchise for 24 years, and you have an opportunity to start something brand new just two hours away by car. I don’t know if it’s luck or if it’s just fate or what it is, but it’s a special time for all of us.”
It’s the start of a long journey the Kraken hope leads to one destination.
De Bonis’ office overlooks center ice of Starbucks Rink 1 at Kraken Community Iceplex. Through the window fans can spot two replicas of the Presidents’ Trophy, which the Canucks won in 2011 and 2012 for finishing first in the NHL standings. Between them is a replica of the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, which the Canucks won in 2011 for winning the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They lost to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
“Those trophies, on the one hand, you’re like, ‘We didn’t win,'” de Bonis said. “Those 2011 and 2012 teams, they were amazing. You put them there, because it’s a reminder that you keep pushing to try to win, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”