Kraken Journey: Hockey Dream is Now Real

by 24USATVOct. 13, 2021, 9 a.m. 20
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For everyone on this Seattle Kraken journey, the starting point will never be forgotten.

Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke remembers sitting in a meeting March 1, 2018, with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell during his previous job as the NFL's chief operating officer. A text from his brother Tim urged to call immediately.

Leiweke stepped out of the conference room and into this ambitious and inspiring hockey dream that became official regular-season reality Tuesday. Tim Leiweke excitedly told his younger brother Seattle fans had made the requisite 10,000 ticket deposits (an NHL expansion franchise requirement) in 12 minutes.

The depositor group totaled 32,000 in 24 hours and every seat holder no doubt recalls the indelible thrill of getting in the queue to attend Kraken home games.

For Ron Francis, it started with a text from Leiweke in June 2019 to set up a time to talk about becoming the Kraken GM. A month later, Leiweke was announcing the 23-season Hall of Fame player and successful hockey executive as GM at the KEXP café space just north and west of Climate Pledge Arena.

Seattle head coach Dave Hakstol was hired this past June, but his Kraken journey started in the spring of 2019 when he and Francis paired up for a car trip between Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Hakstol was part of the Team Canada coaching staff for the 2019 World Championships and Francis served on the management team.

"It was a few-hours car ride to Brno, Czech Republic, and back," Francis recalls. "Talking hockey and scouting a game."

"What a great trip," said Hakstol, the night before he was officially announced. "We watched the game and took a lot of notes, but the special stuff was spending time together."

Francis said the two bonded over four weeks in the Team Canada coaches room.

"I'm an early riser," said Francis. "I get to the room first most days. But if I wasn't there first, it was because Dave was first. We were first and second every day."

For Mark Giordano, Seattle's first captain, the journey to the Kraken's regular-season opener was fast-track. The NHL Expansion Draft was on a Wednesday in late July. He found out the day before he was not only the Kraken's choice from the Calgary Flames, but that the team wanted him to fly from Toronto to Seattle the next morning to be part of a live expansion draft show at Gas Works Park.

But Giordano needed to get a COVID test as part of travel requirements, which required "running around downtown Toronto from Shoppers Drug Mart to Shoppers Drug Mart" before boarding a jet early the next morning.

When the 37-year-old defenseman stepped off the plane, he wasn't sure what to expect. He admitted later:

"When I got the call from Ron [Francis] I was initially in a little bit of shock," Giordano said during Expansion Draft week. "I knew I was on the list .... I had never played anywhere but Calgary [13 NHL seasons].

"Then I got here and we've had good vibes the last two days. In fact, I got up [Thursday morning, the day after the draft event] and the vibe was even stronger and better and more positive."

Tuesday morning, talking to the media after a morning skate that featured several questions about the status of teammates in COVID protocol, Giordano doubled down on his new role as the Kraken's emotional compass.

"It's pretty cool to be here," Giordano said. "I've been looking forward to this game for a long time."

Pause on that. In late July, Giordano was shaking off some initial shock. Less than three months later, it feels longer to both "Gio" and Kraken fans that he has been representing our city and new hockey team. His lines from Vegas show Francis and Hakstol named the right guy to wear the "C."

"We're not coming in [Tuesday night] with built-in excuses," he told the media. "We're looking to win the game."

Veteran forward Marcus Johansson's Kraken journey started Aug. 6, when he signed a one-year contract to add depth and versatility - plus impressive postseason scoring - to Seattle's forward line depth.

Tuesday, just cleared from COVID protocol, Johansson was talking about how much he and teammates had this game in mind for all of training camp and "Captain's skates" informal workouts at Kraken Community Iceplex before that.

"They want to show us we can't do what Vegas did [reaching Stanley Cup Final in 2018] and we want to show them the other way around," said Johansson, speaking and thinking like any of us on this Kraken journey. "It is a lot of fun and cool to start against Vegas."

No matter Tuesday's outcome, it is another marker on the Kraken journey, even a second starting point if you'd like to think of it that way.

For Giordano, he considers it a "fresh start" that pushed him to get in peak condition for the season ahead.

"A clean slate helped me," said Giordano in a recent interview. "I'm all about winning. I haven't won [the Cup] yet in this league. We will be trying to get there with this team."

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