Seattle’s hockey history is richer than you think

The Seattle Kraken will take to the ice in their home debut today, playing against the Vancouver Canucks. And while the long-awaited game at the new Climate potential Arena marks a meaningful development for the city, it’s hardly the first time Seattle has had serious hockey around town.

It was 106 years ago Seattle got its very first specialized hockey team, the Seattle Metropolitans, an expansion team formed by the owners of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The Mets would prove the first Seattle team to take home a national championship.

In 1917, the season before the NHL was already formed, the Mets won the Stanley Cup against the Montreal Canadiens. Seattle was the very first American team to win the Stanley Cup, a complete 11 years before the New York Rangers would win it as an NHL franchise.

Seattle won its first major national championship nearly 100 years ago, when the Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association became the first American pro-hockey team to win the Stanley Cup in 1917. The Mets returned to the Stanley Cup finals in 1919 (that team is pictured above), but a flu epidemic halted the tournament. In 1920, the Mets returned again but lost the Stanley Cup finals to the Ottawa Senators.

File photo/Seattle P-I archives

The Mets played in Seattle’s first public ice arena, the Seattle Ice Arena, a 4,000-seat venue built for a whopping $100,000 at Fifth method and Seneca Street, where 1200 Fifth (formerly the IBM building) now stands. After winning the Cup in 1917, the team would go on to appear in the championship game in 1919 — a series Seattle might have won had it not been canceled partway by due to the Spanish flu epidemic which hit the city — and in 1920.

But at the close of the 1923-24 season, with game attendance dwindling to about 1,000 per home game, the team folded, as did its league. In 1928, the newly finished Civic Ice Arena, constructed on what would later become Seattle Center grounds, opened, and with it a new Seattle team, the Seattle Eskimos.

The Eskimos came as part of a new league, the Pacific Coast Hockey League, that would fold in 1931 and take the team with it. The league name would resurface later, but not the team. One member of the Eskimos, Henry Harris — brother to a former Metropolitan, Wilfred ‘Smokey’ Harris — was known throughout the league for his rough play, and in the 1928-29 season, he held the record for the most penalty minutes.

“Henry Harris, brother to the Seattle Metropolitans player Wilfred ‘Smokey’ Harris, played forward for the Seattle Eskimos from 1928-1930.” -MOHAI. Photo, dated 1929 courtesy MOHAI, Seattle P-I Collection, image number 1986.5G.985.1.

Courtesy MOHAI

Two years would go by before the Northwest Hockey League was formed and a new Seattle team, the Sea Hawks, in 1933. The Sea Hawks had a mixed record, but in 1936 took the NWHL championship, the first championship since the 1920 Mets season.

In 1940, the team was sold and then renamed the Olympics for one more season before the league itself folded and took its teams with it. Seattle was left with no specialized hockey for the next seven years, but in 1944, the Pacific Coast Hockey League was revived as an amateur league and Seattle got another new team, the Ironmen. The Ironmen would play as an amateur team until 1948, when the league became specialized.

In 1952, the league became the Western Hockey League and the Ironmen changed its name to the Bombers, going 52-74-15 during the two years it played in that uniform. With attendance low and the team’s owner in trouble, the organization took a one-year interruption during the 1954-55 season and returned under new ownership as the Seattle Americans for the 1955-56 season.

“In October 1947, the Seattle Ironmen opened at the Civic Arena against the Vancouver Canucks. The team played in the northern division of the Pacific Coast Ice Hockey League by the 1951 season. This October 1947 photo shows the Seattle Ironmen sitting at the edge of the ice rink at the Civic Arena, now Mercer Arena at Seattle Center.” -MOHAI. Photo, dated 1947, courtesy MOHAI, Seattle P-I Collection, image number PI26812.

Courtesy MOHAI

Again in 1958, the team underwent in addition another name change to the Seattle Totems, a team that would prove competitive if not mythical. During the following 10 years, the Totems would appear in five WHL finals, winning three championships and marking a golden age for hockey in the city. The Totems were the first American specialized team to compete with a Soviet national team when the two squared off in 1972.

Two years later came the first time Seattle danced with the possibility of an NHL team. In April 1974, the NHL announced that two expansion teams had been awarded, one to Seattle and one to Denver. The Seattle deal was awarded to a group headed by Vince Abbey, a part owner of the Totems.

The announcement triggered the folding of the WHL and the Totems moved to the Central Hockey League for the following season while awaiting finalization of the NHL deal that was expected to bring the team with it. But Abbey had trouble coming up with all the financing necessary to finalize the deal, and, after failed attempts at buying other teams and moving them, the NHL withdrew the expansion for both Seattle and Denver.

Seattle Totems goalies practicing in Coliseum, Seattle, 1968. Photo courtesy MOHAI, Seattle P-I Collection, image number 1986.5.50162.1.

Courtesy MOHAI

The Totems, saddled with more than $2 million in losses, had to be folded in 1975 and with that, specialized hockey in Seattle was over. Another two years went by before a Canadian team moved to Seattle under a new name, the Seattle Breakers.

The Breakers, formerly the Kamloops Chiefs, were a junior hockey team in the Western Canada Hockey League, with players aged 14-20. The league was renamed the Western Hockey League (the second league by that name) with the start of the 1978-79 season and continues today with two regional teams.

The Breakers competed at the Seattle Center Ice Arena (the Civic Arena, later known as the Mercer Arena) and didn’t exactly make groups (pun intended) throughout their eight seasons under the name. After the 1984-85 season, the team was sold and renamed the Thunderbirds, a team that continues today.

The T-Birds would ultimately move to KeyArena, a venue not designed strictly with hockey in mind, before moving to Kent’s ShoWare Center in 2009.

Information for this article came from, MOHAI and Seattle P-I archival stories.

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