By Andy Eide
SEATTLE – The Northgate Mall food court was briefly taken over Monday morning by the group looking to bring an NHL team to Seattle.
Tod Leiweke, President of Seattle Hockey Partners, was on hand to officially announce that Northgate will be the future home for the hockey training facility and team headquarters. The NHL Seattle Ice Centre will be a state-of-the-art practice facility covering a total of 180,000 square feet.
The $70 million, privately funded project will be the anchor tenant of Simon Property Group’s redevelopment efforts in a new mixed-used development complex at Northgate. It was designed by Generator Studio, which is the same architect firm that designed the practice facility currently being constructed by the St. Louis Blues.
“Seattle is our home and we couldn’t be more proud,” Leiweke said. “And we looked all over the region, but we were drawn to the idea that we will wear ‘Seattle’ across our chest on our jerseys, on our sweaters, and that’s ultimately where our training center and our headquarters should be.”
Leiweke added that the facility was a major piece of the group’s presentation to the NHL last week in New York. It was at that meeting that the NHL’s Executive Committee recommended to the Board of Governors that Seattle be granted an expansion franchise. The official NHL vote and award of a team will be in early December.
The facility is an ambitious project that will not only serve as headquarters to the NHL team, but be an addition to the local hockey landscape.
It will feature three NHL-sized rinks with spectator viewing locations for 1,000 fans in the main rink and an additional 400 in the other two rinks. There will be state-of-the-art locker rooms along with strength and conditioning areas. It will also house NHL Seattle’s hockey operations and administrative staff. There will be a restaurant, bar, and retail space available as well. Leiweke also spoke of the facility containing an auditorium and education center to teach hockey.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Executive Director of Sno-King Amateur Hockey, Dave Blanchard said. “It looks like it’s something that will be a great community asset and the NHL seems like they’re committed to adding to the community, it will be a big plus.
“Three sheets is a great addition to what already exists. It will be a great initial boost for kids to be able to play hockey. Kids in Seattle aren’t served by any rinks right now.”
Currently there are no community rinks within the city limits of Seattle. The closest rink is Highland Ice Arena in Shoreline which contains two sheets of ice to skate on and is one of the older rinks in the region. Highland Ice is also the home of the Washington Wild girls hockey program and Wild player Jaina Goscinski was invited to join Leiweke on the podium Monday.
Its another reason that placing the practice facility in Seattle was key to NHL Seattle.
“We have an incredible opportunity to make Seattle the epicenter of hockey in the Pacific Northwest,” Leiweke said. “Our ownership has given us the ability to take a big, big step today. This is a major commitment, we’re investing a lot of money in Key Arena, we’re acquiring a team, we hope. So, this is another major step that our owners are making to grow the game.”
There was no definitive date as to when construction on the facility will begin but the design plans have been submitted to the City of Seattle and Leiweke was optimistic that it would be completed in time for what he hopes will be a 2020 inaugural season.
That will give time for NHL Seattle to continue its work with local hockey associations to coordinate the use of the new facility.
“We’ve already had early engagement with the entire amateur hockey network here and we’ll continue to have those conversations,” NHL Seattle project leader Lance Lopes said. “We’re going to continue to have discussions about how we can figure out how to make this all work and grow the game of hockey for everybody involved.
“We have not gotten into the details about how we want to do that yet. Now that we all know that we have three sheets of ice we can start thinking about how we program.”
The Seattle hockey landscape is more than just boys and girl’s hockey as there is also a healthy amount of adult recreational leagues. The Greater Seattle Hockey League boasts nearly 100 teams and over 1,700 registered players. As with the youth hockey, ice time is precious and league games often happen late on week nights and require a lot of travel.
“It’s great, great location and the drawings are amazing,” GSHL owner Andy Cole said. “It’s going to be a great addition to the local hockey community and I hope the GSHL gets to skate in the building. I hope to talk to them, they’ve been great so far.”
Cole also sees this practice facility and the NHL’s presence as a way to grow the sport locally. He looks forward to working with NHL Seattle to help make that happen while not taking away from existing rinks and facilities.
While he is excited to have more ice time carved out for the kids and adults, he hopes that there is a deliberate plan for the future hockey players, young and old.
“The uptick in hockey participation once these guys hit the ice will be huge,” Cole said. “You want to leave room for people who want to get into hockey in two, three, five, ten years. You don’t want to just fill it up with existing, old guys. Have a plan to have a mechanism so that hundreds of thousands of people can go in and out of that building and people always have an avenue to use the ice.”
The announcement Monday was the latest in what has felt like an ever building momentum towards an expansion NHL team. Over the last three weeks Seattle has seen its City Council approve a new arena project at Seattle Center, the NHL Executive Committee recommending expansion, and now a new training facility announced.
That excitement is real among Seattle’s hockey community and December, while only two months away, can’t come fast enough.