They stood and saluted by the thousands Saturday night as a new era for Seattle sports launched with major professional hockey reborn within an arena similarly resurrected.
What the Kraken did at Climate Pledge Arena, losing 4-2 to the Vancouver Canucks, was secondary to the event itself. The sellout crowd of 17,151, marveling at the modern spectacle that used to be KeyArena before it was demolished and rebuilt under the same roof, erupted in thunderous cheers when their first major hockey team since the 1924 Metropolitans took the ice.
They kept on cheering wildly when Kraken defenseman Vince Dunn scored the first goal in arena history, taking a pass at the left point, walking in and hesitating momentarily before beating Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko with a wrist shot to his glove side. The clock said only 4.6 seconds remained in the period, and so the cheering didn’t stop until well after the ferry goal horn ceased, the intermission began and teams headed off the ice to their dressing rooms.
But it wouldn’t last. Leading 2-1 with just over seven minutes remaining, the Kraken would surrender a power-play marker by Canucks captain Bo Horvat, the eventual clincher on a Conor Garland slap shot from the right circle and an empty-net tally with a minute left.
It was a somber end to a night that began and largely continued with promise for the Kraken, only to see the home side fall to 1-4-1.
“It’s disappointing,” Dunn said of his team’s third consecutive regulation defeat. “It’s a tough league to not keep the gas on for 60 minutes. A lot of these games, we’ve given ourselves a really good chance to win. But it’s not good enough. We have to find a way to close things out.”
The Kraken enjoyed the majority of quality chances in this one, whether it was Alex Wennberg nearly beating Demko on a second-period wraparound, or Mason Appleton tucking a breakaway chance between the goalie’s legs — only to have him reach back and corral the puck before it trickled across the goal line.
The Canucks seemed to capitalize on any dangerous chances they had.
One came midway through the second period when Horvat evened things at 1-1 with his first of two of his team’s first shot of the frame. The Kraken had reason to be frustrated heading to the locker room at intermission, but again came out strong to start the third and appeared headed to victory when captain Mark Giordano took a good feed from Jared McCann at the 5:10 mark and beat Demko glove side from the left faceoff circle.
The crowd erupted anew, sensing a celebratory end to a night their team had largely outworked the visitors by doing little things — forechecking, zone exits and neutral zone transitioning among them — it had promised would change heading in.
But Carson Soucy took a penalty for tripping and Horvat scored the power play equalizer, left alone at the lip of the crease after Philipp Grubauer made an initial save on a shot through traffic.
“I feel like everybody was engaged, everybody was going and everybody was doing the right thing compared to the last few games,” Grubauer said. “We changed a couple of things and I think it made a huge difference in our game.”
Grubauer, serenaded by chants of “Gruuuuuu!” all night long when he’d make a big stop, said Kraken players fed off the crowd’s energy and badly wanted a different result.
“We need to play the right way,” he said, adding the team wasn’t fully there yet. “Every shift needs to be the same. Every line needs to do the same thing and then from there you grow confidence.”
The Canucks, even in a 2-2 tie, still weren’t generating many high-quality chances. But then Garland beat two defenders to a loose puck down the right side and blasted a slap shot past Grubauer from close range.
For Kraken coach Dave Hakstol, the result was tough to swallow on a night his players did a lot of things right.
“It was our best 60 of the year,” Hakstol said. “Pretty even first period, we were able to tilt the ice a bit in the second period. We were able to do that in the third period, after getting the lead to 2-1 we had a few chances to extend it and didn’t do it.”
Then, he added: “The one bounce of the game that went their way was the game winner.”
But as fans headed to the exits, having watched a bit of history, there was some optimism that perhaps the bounces would go their team’s way the next time.
The Metropolitans, for the record, also lost their final game to a Vancouver team, that one dubbed the Maroons, on March 7, 1924. So, a regional rivalry was likely reborn here as well, with plenty more chances to come for the Kraken to make amends.