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Seattle Hockey History, Part 1

Photo Credit
SBNation (Remembering the Seattle Metropolitans)

The first American team to win the Stanley Cup.

If you’ve lived in or visited Seattle for any length of time, you’ve probably walked past where, on March 26th of 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans defeated the Montreal Canadiens. As you stroll or drive along 5th avenue, across from the Olympic Hotel, you will find the IBM building. A staple of the Seattle skyline since the 1960s. But before being home to a computing juggernaut, here stood the 4000 seat Seattle Ice Arena. An arena where history was made, a championship won, and a city’s hockey legacy began.

Built in 1915 for $100 thousand, a paltry $2.4 million adjusted for inflation, the Seattle Ice Arena served as the home of the Metropolitans until 1924. The Metropolitans would qualify for the Stanley Cup final three times during the franchise’s nearly decade long run however, the 1919 finals against the Canadiens were cancelled due to the flu epidemic and in 1920 Seattle lost to the Ottawa Senators. After the 1924 season the home of Seattle hockey would briefly find life as a roller rink, until finally being converted into a parking lot in 1925. An unceremonious end to this hallowed hockey ground, as a Stanley Cup win would never again grace Seattle in the 20th century.

Should Seattle ever again hoist the Cup, I hope it passes down 5th avenue. Down the road it was first won in America. A fitting salute to the long dissolved champions. But this is a story you’ve probably already heard, so how about one you might not be familiar with, a nearly forgotten champion from a bygone era.

The 2013 Seattle Seahawks were the second such named team to win a championship for the Emerald City.

In 1927 the Civil Arena was built and housed a new team, the Seattle Eskimos who played from 1928 to 1931, though they did not meet with much success. Problems with the league caused the team to fold and again hockey left the city. Times were hard, the stock market had crashed, and dreams of the championship hockey were dimmed for a time.

The 1930s in America were a heavily troubled time of economic disparity, social unrest, and political upheaval. With employment still above 20% in much of the country, 1935 was a year of struggle for the American working class even as massive public works campaigns such as the completion of the Hoover Dam tried to reduce the number of those clamoring to find work and support their families.

Seattle, during this time frame, was no stranger to struggle and turmoil. After the end of World War One, the injection of federal funds via U.S. Department of War projects dried up almost immediately. What followed was a rapid rise in unemployment and the area went back to a mostly resource export economic model. Hundreds and thousands found themselves without work and unable to provide for themselves. A few blocks from Pioneer Square stood the city’s own Hooverville, a term less than affectionately coined for President Hoover. Seen by many as largely responsible for the great depression. In total, eight Hoovervilles would spring up in and around Seattle as the area struggled with economic identity in the wake of the evaporation of industry from the area. The economic turmoil in the area turned political and ideological. The Pacific Northwest became a hotbed of communist thinking in the interwar period and large-scale workers strikes became a fixture of the Seattle economic landscape, most famously in 1934 during the Maritime workers strike. As dock workers along the West Coast faced off against police and strike breakers it was in this setting that Seattle would be a championship city once again.

Founded in 1933, the Seattle Sea Hawks were a member of the North West Hockey League. The League itself was a minor professional league, not on par with the NHL. Initially established by the franchises in Calgary and Vancouver, Seattle joined the league in its inaugural season. In 1934 and 1935 the Seattle Sea Hawks qualified for the final, winning in 1935 to reestablish Seattle as a championship city for hockey. From 1936 to 1940 the Sea Hawks joined the Pacific Coast Hockey League (PCHL). In both 1937 and 1938 Seattle would again play for championships losing to the Vancouver Lions in 1937 and to the Portland Buckaroos in 1938. Overall the Sea Hawks would go on to play in the finals four times, but win the PCHL title only once.

Information is scarce and sometimes conflicting on the Seattle Sea Hawks hockey team, existing for only seven years across two relatively unstable leagues during a period of economic and social instability does not lend itself to an overflow of available information. During the last gasp of old pioneer Seattle was a team with familiar name and unfamiliar face. It was not the first championship ice hockey team for Seattle, nor would it be the last. It could be coincidence, or it could be a call back to the mostly forgotten Sea Hawks of the depression when the NFL expansion to the area in 1974 took up the name. It so happens that 153 people in the Seattle area submitted the name to the franchise during the naming process, it’s quite possible the hockey team from over 30 years ago stood in the collective memory of some. In either case, the name rose from the ashes and after a 75 year hiatus the Seahawks were champions again winning Super Bowl 48.

Seattle is a city of championship hockey.

One doesn’t need to look far in the past for Seattle hockey champions. The Thunderbirds recently won the WHL championship in the 2016-2017 season. But it’s interesting to dive into the history of Seattle ice hockey teams because winning hockey isn’t new to this region. With the prospects and dream of joining the NHL swirling in our collective heads sometimes it’s good to take a step back and look at the times behind us all. Even during the muddy hell of World War One or the seemingly endless despair of the Great Depression, Seattle has always been a city of champions. This out of the way, damp corner of the United States has a checkered and deep history, and while oft ignored by our counterparts farther to the East there is much to be proud of. The Pacific Northwest has gone through many identity changes, from gold rush supply town, logging and fishing hub, the home of a massive flight industry, and the boom of the information era Seattle has always been a home to championship hockey. As we head towards the Western Hockey League playoffs and the exciting rivalry match ups ahead between the Everett Silvertips and the Seattle Thunderbirds, I can’t help but feel excited that we’re closer than we’ve been in decades to having the NHL come to the Puget Sound. Bring the Stanley Cup back to its American home.