SPOKANE, Wash. — The Seattle Kraken scored, the fans rose to their feet and roared, and Nirvana’s “Lithium” blared from the loudspeakers. The fans jammed with the voice of the late Kurt Cobain.
“Yeah, yeah! Yeah, yeaaah!”
This was Spokane, Washington, more than four hours east of Seattle by car. But at times it felt like Seattle. It sounded like Seattle.
And the Kraken can only hope this is what the results will be like in Seattle when the regular season starts. In the first preseason game in their history, they defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-3 on Sunday, coming back from down 2-0, scoring three power-play goals and outshooting the Canucks 38-14.
“It was exciting coming in,” forward Ryan Donato said. “I think we knew how much of a blessing it was to be able to come here with the excitement and everything. I think that got to us a little bit at the beginning. We were kind of playing with nerves, and we were trying to stick so much to our systems.
“But once we got comfortable and played the way we knew that we could, obviously, with our systems and the way we practice, things went well.”
Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on Climate Pledge Arena, the new $1.2 billion venue under the old iconic roof of the former KeyArena near the Space Needle.
It won’t be ready for the Kraken until their regular-season home opener against the Canucks on Oct. 23, so they are playing three preseason “home” games in junior hockey arenas in Washington state, calling it the “3-Rink Rush” and donating proceeds to youth hockey.
The first was here at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, home of the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League. Much of the crowd was local, and it showed at the end of the United States national anthem, when the fans declared this not just the home of the brave but the home of the “Chiefs!”
But there were thousands of fans dressed in Kraken gear or lined up to buy it, and they started chants of “Let’s go, Kraken!”
Some fans made the trip from Seattle. Lexi Terhark, 45, a season ticket holder from Redmond, Washington, flew from Seattle to Spokane in the morning and lined up to get into the arena about an hour before the doors opened at 4:30 p.m. PT.
“This is great,” Terhark said, wearing a home No. 31 Philipp Grubauer jersey with an inaugural season patch. “You know when you have a bucket list, and there’s things you want to do with your life? One of the silly — or not-so-silly — things was NHL season tickets. And then when I heard Seattle was getting a team, I was like, ‘I just have to do this.’ …
“I just had to be here for the first preseason game. Just had to.”
This was a dress rehearsal for everyone. The Kraken entertainment team tried out personnel and material the same way the hockey team tried out personnel and tactics, seeing what worked and what didn’t.
The pregame video montage used nautical and hockey images. The catchphrase was “UNLEASH THE POWER,” not “RELEASE THE KRAKEN.” But soon afterward, PA announcer Sharon Nyree Williams asked the fans, “Spokane, are you ready to release the Kraken?”
Some of the music had Seattle roots. Grubauer led the team onto the ice to “Loyal” by Odesza. A Vancouver penalty prompted “Man in the Box” by Alice in Chains. And then, of course, there was nirvana — the goal song by Nirvana.
Jonny Greco, senior vice president of game presentation and live entertainment, said before the game that the Kraken would try a couple of goal songs in the preseason before deciding on one for the regular season. We’ll see. Was this the obvious choice? Too obvious?
There were some fun items too. SpongeBob Squarepants wrote a note to the fans at one point on the video board, urging them to “MAKE SOME NOISE.” How can you root for a team called the Kraken and not love a cartoon character who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
“It was unbelievable, to be honest,” Donato said. “For me, coming in here and seeing all the Kraken jerseys and how everything’s grown so fast, it’s truly awesome to be a part of.”
The Kraken had three days of training camp and a morning skate to prepare, and they didn’t work on special teams until the morning skate. It showed in the first period, when they gave up a goal shortly after a Seattle power play expired and then a power-play goal.
But they dressed a strong lineup, starting Grubauer in goal, Mark Giordano and Jamie Oleksiak at defenseman, and Jaden Schwartz, Jared McCann and Jordan Eberle up front. Giordano, Schwartz and defenseman Adam Larsson each was an alternate captain.
Forward Riley Sheahan scored the first preseason goal in Kraken history at 2:32 of the second period, cutting the Canucks lead to 2-1 and becoming the answer to a trivia question. They settled down and excelled on the power play they had barely practiced. By the end of the night, they were smiling and tossing T-shirts to the fans.
“There was a little extra excitement there,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “But all in all, when you look around, with the veterans and the leadership we have in that dressing room, it was a pretty businesslike atmosphere. We have a lot to work at, and tonight was a good step and a positive step and one that gives us lots of learning opportunities.”