This is part two of our conversation with Seattle Hockey Partners CEO Tod Leiweke. In Part one, Leiweke spoke about his passion for the game of hockey. In this piece, Leiweke touches on a number of topics surrounding the NHL arriving in Seattle.
By Andy Eide
The big week is here. Tod Leiweke will be leading the Seattle contingent out to New York on Tuesday to make their formal presentation to the NHL’s Executive Committee. If all goes well, Seattle will be one giant step closer to bringing the league’s 32nd franchise home.
Once the NHL makes the decision that Leiweke, and all Seattle hockey fans, hope it will make, there is a ton of work still to be completed.
What follows are excerpts from our conversation with Leiweke a few weeks ago about some of that work and other aspects of building a franchise from the ground up.
Leiweke commented on the team-first aspect of NHL players.
“You do have different personalities,” he said. “You have U.S. kids, you have Canadian kids, you have kids from Russia, and Sweden, and Finland. So, you have a real amalgamation of different personalities so there’s a kind of common denominator in hockey. There’s just not a lot of Prima Donnas, they all pull and they all work. Those who work the hardest win the Cup.
“They want to be a team of 20. Goal scorers can stick out a little bit, goalies can stick out a little bit, but I think the ethos of the league is that it’s a 20-person roster and everyone contributes. When you get that going and you get all four lines flowing, and your defenders have that mentality then you’ve got something.”
There has been a lot of speculation on where Seattle will eventually place its American Hockey League franchise. Leiweke says that his group has been working hard on settling on a city, presumably in the West.
“We’re really focusing on that now and its exciting,” he said. “We’re definitely honing down locations and it’s a really big part of it. That and the training facility are big, and everyone’s sees this, but behind this are two huge factors; your American hockey league team and how you’re going to do your training facility.
“With the American Hockey League, you not only need to find the right market, but you need a training facility there too. So, this is a lot of stuff to pull together.”
A training facility for the team here in Seattle has been another fun, and hot, topic among Seattle’s hockey fans and community. Leiweke says it will have three ice sheets but there are still questions. Where will it be? What types of amenities will it feature?
“We have really ambitious plans,” Leiweke said. “I think we’re going to pull it off. I think we’re going to end up with the facility we’re dreaming about. I hope we get to announce it in the coming weeks.
“What we want to do, ice time is tight here, we want to make sure that all those rinks that are currently going continue to be vibrant and then in adding, we want to grow a market. This isn’t about taking away, we want to add. We think that a three-sheet facility can really grow the sport here.
“It’s not just the sheets of ice, it’s the training facility. It’s the health care pieces, it’s making sure your public facilities are terrific. It’s having a teaching component and it’s not just for the players but there is a lot of teaching we’re going to do around hockey.
“So, we’re talking about having an auditorium in the facility as well and bring people in and showing them what we’re doing. For some of them, it’s showing them the journey.”
Fans of the current junior clubs in the area have worried that the arrival of an NHL team could hurt both the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Everett Silvertips. Leiweke wants to not only work with those clubs, but with all the local youth hockey as well.
“We should be additive and super helpful,” he said. “We’re going to cultivate more and more interest in the sport. I want to add to everything, we shouldn’t take from anything. Like, the Seattle Center, we should help make everything there better. Some of the folks aren’t sure what to make of it and they’re not sure what to make of the hockey crowd. They’re going to see fans, hockey fans travel.”
While there is junior hockey, youth hockey, and robust adult recreational hockey leagues in Seattle, it is still widely considered a non-traditional hockey market. Does Leiweke agree with that assessment of Seattle?
“Canada is 130 miles away and I think there’s some inherent advantages here,” he said. “There will certainly be a flow between Vancouver and here. The fact that CBC is being beamed into the market so you can watch great hockey (helps). I think there’s this thing that I call the psycho-graphic fit. We have mountains that surround the city, there’s an outdoor orientation.
“Alaska is near and dear, hockey is the number one sport and we’re hopeful that will be part of our territory. The hockey community across the state is actually pretty healthy. We’re right in the middle of the pack and we don’t have an NHL team pushing it. We’re not here to take over that, we’re here to be a part of it and push it.”
Leiweke is also a player himself. He says that they plan on having staff games the morning of home games and while he’s ready to start playing again, he has some rust to knock off.
“I’m going to get my legs under me and we’re skating on game day,” he said. “Also (I’m) bringing people out. I was talking to (former Seahawks player) Cliff Avril and I said, ‘size 12 right?’. You can teach people to skate and then they start to see the amazing part of the sport. It is closer to ballet than it is wrestling.”
What type of atmosphere does Leiweke envision in the new Center Arena?
“Look at my background,” he said. “The Seahawks have the loudest stadium. We’re going to have an environment that is really going to be awesome. Really, that’s all about the fans and when you have 32,000 fans that sign up, if we can’t make it fantastic and compelling then shame on us, because the fans have been fantastic. That barn is going to be awesome.”