clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Frozen Grounds: A Brief History Of Professional Hockey In Puget Sound

Professional hockey has been in the Puget Sound region for much longer than most people realize. Here's a brief rundown on the team names, leagues, and dates.

Getty Images

You might not know it, but Seattle has a long history of hockey. From having the first American-based team to win the Stanley Cup to the Seattle Thunderbirds, hockey is a tradition that goes back almost a century. That's right - there's been hockey in Seattle for nearly 100 years.

The first documented professional hockey team was the Seattle Metropolitans. They came into being in 1915, and played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) until 1924, when the team folded. They won the PCHA title three years: 1917, 1919, and 1920. In 1921, the PCHA merged with the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL).

During that time, they played for a championship trophy, the Stanley Cup, with the National Hockey Association (NHA) - which was the immediate forerunner of the National Hockey League (NHL), who then took over in 1917 when the NHA collapsed. The champion of the NHA / NHL played the champion of the PCHA / WCHL. When the PCHA / WCHL folded in 1924, the Stanley Cup became the exclusive property of the NHL.

The Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup in 1917 versus the Montreal Canadiens. They played the Canadiens again in 1919 for the Cup, but the series was canceled due to the Spanish flu epidemic, which ended up killing a player on Montreal. Their final chance at the Cup game in 1920 against the Ottawa Senators, but they Senators won that time.

(Incidentally, while there are currently two teams named the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators in the NHL, only one has been around for over 100 years. The Montreal Canadiens just celebrated their 100th anniversary a couple of seasons ago. However, the modern-day Ottawa Senators were an expansion team awarded in 1990. They were named after the original team that existed from 1910-1934 in the NHA / NHL.)

So the Metropolitans became defunct in 1924. There was the Seattle Eskimos (PCHL; 1928-1931), along with the Tacoma Tigers (PCHL; 1930-1931). Then there was the Seattle Seahawks (PCHL; 1936-1940). After that, the Seattle Stars (PCHL; 1944-1945) and the Tacoma Rockets (PCHL; 1946-1952 / Western Hockey League (WHL); 1952-1953).

Skipping ahead to 1945. World War II had ended, and new resurrected Pacific Coast Hockey League (PCHL) came into being as a semi-pro league. Seattle was awarded the Ironmen, who won their first league championship 1948. However, the league turned fully professional in 1949.

In 1952, the PCHL became the WHL - which, at this time was a professional minor league, and not the major junior league known by that name today. With that change, the Seattle Ironmen turned into the Seattle Bombers in 1953. Due to increasing travel costs, the team suspended operations in 1955.

In 1956, the team was now named the Seattle Americans. On the team was the greatest minor league scorer of all time, Guyle Fielder. Also according to Wikipedia, the Americans:

...finishing in first place in 1957 led by a tremendous season by Fielder, who broke the professional single season scoring record with 122 points en route to Most Valuable Player honors and the first of four straight scoring championships for Seattle. Among other notables for the Americans were Val Fonteyne, notable as the least penalized player of all time, future Vezina winner Charlie Hodge, and future National Hockey League general managers Emile Francis and Keith Allen. The team's final season as the Americans, in 1958, saw the first time the franchise would win a playoff series.

In 1958, the team became the Seattle Totems, and would stay in the WHL and keep that nickname until it 1974. They moved to the Central Hockey League (CHL) in 1974, but the team folded one year after changing leagues. Decades after that, there was the Tacoma Sabercats of the minor league West Coast Hockey League (WCHL) from 1997 to 2002.

(All of these leagues may have the same names, but they are often named for their predecessors and are considered different entities.)

In 1974, the NHL awarded Seattle an expansion team. They were to start playing in the NHL in 1976 in the Seattle Center Coliseum. But, the group led by Vince Abbey had their application pulled due to missing a number of deadlines for securing financing. Abbey's group had reportedly had an opportunity to buy a World Hockey Association team while this was going on. (The WHA was later merged into the NHL in 1979.) But they decided against it.

And that was the end of professional hockey in Seattle. In 1990, a group headed by Bill Ackerley - son of then Sonics owner Barry Ackerley - had applied for an NHL expansion team. Bill Ackerley later withdrew the application for unknown reasons, and teams were awarded to Ottawa and Tampa Bay instead.

The major junior WHL was formed in 1966, and the Seattle Thunderbirds joined in 1977 while the Everett Silvertips joined in 2003. Tacoma had a major junior team as well, from 1991-1995. They were the Tacoma Rockets, for the previous PCHL team, and they relocated to Kelowna, British Columbia in 1996.

The NHL has wanted to see a team in Seattle for a very long time. And many Vancouver Canucks fans are thrilled by the prospect of having another team so close to theirs - for road trips, if nothing else. So perhaps with this possible new arena in SoDo, they'll get their wish.