A hockey town? Seattle's enthusiasm for the sport already includes UW hockey club

Even with an arena plan, NHL hockey could be a long way off. But the Husky team, operated as a club outside the U's athletic department, is very much in the moment with a conference championship and an upcoming Western regional tournament.

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The University of Washington's club hockey team won their conference tournament.

Even with an arena plan, NHL hockey could be a long way off. But the Husky team, operated as a club outside the U's athletic department, is very much in the moment with a conference championship and an upcoming Western regional tournament.

The Thursday (Feb. 16) press-conference revelation about a possible new sports facility in SoDo re-energized regional hoop fanatics bent on bringing to Seattle another incarnation of the SuperSonics.

The news also meant potential good news in the offing for the heretofore silent minority of sports fans yearning for what the region has never had: the National Hockey League (NHL).

A recent unscientific reader-response poll in The Seattle Times indicated impressive fan support for an NHL outfit. That team might be the Phoenix Coyotes, a league-owned distressed contingent that, if San Francisco rich guy Chris Hansen has his way, would someday play at an as yet invisible facility just south of the Safeco Field parking garage.

The hockey team would coordinate home dates with a National Basketball Association team; the new half-billion-dollar facility, according to press-confab cohosts Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine, also would host concerts and other cultural activities.

It’s the sudden apparent popularity of ice hockey, however, that ought to be good news for Dan Herda. The University of Washington junior (full disclosure: I have him in one of my journalism classes) spends much of his time from early autumn to late winter laboring (in a loving way) for the University of Washington hockey team. The Bellingham-bred forward, along with his 22 teammates and a volunteer coach, spends much of his off-the-ice time trying to raise awareness of a program many don’t even know exists.

In fact, he noted Wednesday (Feb. 15), “we were founded in 1919 and have been active on campus ever since. We participate in the Pac-8, which includes Washington State, Oregon, Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah and us.

“Last year was the first year that we won the Pac-8 championships since the league was formed in 1995 and then we repeated this year.”

He stated something that once was familiar to Husky-football fans before the University of Oregon program developed into national-elite status: “Our biggest rivalry comes against Oregon.”

He said the Husky and Duck pucksters annually play a best-of-four series (with a tie-breaker shoot-out, if necessary), the winner taking home a trophy known as the I-5 Cup.

I’ve known several other UW hockey players and dozens who participate in school club sports, often performing in front of friends, family, and not many more. The plight of Herda and company is similar to other club-sport athletes scrambling to pay expenses.

“Every year,” he said, “we do several fundraisers to try and raise money for the team, including working the Boeing Classic and other golf tournaments.”

Oh, yeah, and the hockey players also accept donations, which never cover all expenses.

“Every year we end up having to pay $2,000 out of pocket to fund our extensive travel schedule, which is a necessity to compete in the league,” he said. “Most of the players also hold down jobs and participate in other activities on campus.”

The skaters play home events at Olympicview Arena in Mountlake Terrace. Game tix cost a five-spot but true hockey fanatics are tempted to buy season passes for $50 (see what kind of seat 50 bucks will get you when/if the NHL comes to town). Obviously college-level hockey isn’t exactly the Stanley Cup, but, hey, fans who like to win may find it noteworthy that the Husky club is 20-11 as of Thursday afternoon, with but a single home loss.

It’s worth noting that the possibility exists for Seattle to host a new NBA team as soon as next season. This would happen if Sacramento fails to keep hold of its Kings franchise, which then would, in a scenario, become the property of the ownership group led by former Seattleite Hansen and would play at KeyArena while the new facility was built.

Big-league hockey might take longer to arrive in Seattle, which actually boasts a storied history with the sport. The first American Stanley Cup was won in 1917 by the Seattle Metropolitans. The Thunderbirds, who have played minor-league hockey here for years, finish their season in March.

For the Huskies, meanwhile, an exciting season continues. On their Web site HuskyIceHockey.com, they are appealing for help with travel expenses to their upcoming games in San Jose on Feb. 25-26 for Western regional playoffs. It's the first time the team has qualified for the Division 2 Western regionals of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, the governing body for non-varsity hockey college teams. Some 400 ACHA men's teams compete in the ACHA, along with dozens of women's teams.


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