By Paul Ocker
The Times 

Nw Teams Have a Stellar Hockey Season, with more to come


July may seem an odd time to talk about the hardest-hitting and most fun-to-watch sport, which requires great skill to speed around (both forward and backward) to make stunning plays—all on ice. Now that the NHL and AHL playoffs have wrapped up and the NHL draft was just concluded, why not talk about hockey?

Reflecting on the great things that happened in our area’s hockey programs this year, I have high hopes for next year, starting in September. What was so great? Ohhh, let me count the ways.

National Hockey League

In the Seattle Kraken’s second year of existence, with 46 wins, 28 losses, and eight overtime losses, the team finished fourth in its division and made the playoffs for the first time. In the first round, they beat the defending NHL champion, the Colorado Avalanche, but lost to the Dallas Stars in the second round.

Kraken center Matty Beniers won the 2023 Calder Memorial Trophy, the NHL’s Rookie of the Year award. During the off-season, the team released former Tri-City American Morgan Geekie and picked up current Tri-City American defenseman Lukas Dragicevic in the second draft round.

The Kraken will host the 2024 Discover NHL Winter Classic, the first outdoor game of the season, at T-Mobile Park (Mariner’s stadium) on New Year’s Day against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Seattle team will become the 29th NHL team to participate in a regular-season outdoor game and the first Pacific Division team to host the Winter Classic.

East Coast Hockey League

The ECHL is a mid-level professional ice hockey league based in New Jersey, with teams across the United States and Canada. Yes, the Northwest is represented in the ECHl; by the Idaho Steelheads in Boise. The Steelheads had a phenomenal year with the best record of all 28 teams, including 58 wins, 11 losses, and three overtime losses. They also went deep into the playoffs beating the Utah Grizzlies, Allen Americans, and Toledo Walleye. Eventually, losing, believe it or not, to the Florida Everblades. At least it was not the Orlando Solar Bears.

Western Hockey League

Nearly all our local WHL teams had good to great years, and most went to the playoffs this year. The Western Hockey League is a major junior hockey league based in Western Canada and the Northwestern United States. Seattle Thunderbirds won the WHL Championship, earning a berth in the 2023 Memorial Cup. They advanced to the final but ultimately lost to the Quebec Remparts in the continent-wide major junior hockey tournament). As a result of their success, six players were drafted into the NHL, more than all of the other U.S. teams combined.

While Portland and Everett had solid years, Spokane struggled mightily, winning only 15 of 68 games.

In a surprise move, the Winnipeg Ice pulled up stakes from central Canada and relocated to Wenatchee, Washington. The team will start next season as the Wenatchee Wild. The move brings the U.S. Division up to six teams. The stadium can seat 4,300 people per game, so hopefully, the team can draw the crowds needed to make it financially secure and allow it to stay.

Our local team, the Tri-City Americans, finished third in the WHL U.S. division, a significant improvement over the previous three seasons when it finished last. The team had one player drafted into the NHL. Parker Bell, a twenty-year-old NHL draft pick, will return for his final WHL season. A sports commentator recently picked 16-year-old Jordan Gavin as a top NHL draft pick in two years. The Americans have a bright future.

So, things are looking up for hockey in our area. With the increased number of teams, lots of successes last season, and player improvement, this is some of the best live entertainment you will find in the middle of winter. While there is often a pre-season tournament in September, the first regular season home game for the Tri-City Americans is October 7. Join the fun this season for home games at The Toyota Center in Kennewick; you won’t be disappointed.


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