Climate Pledge Arena fan experience is spectacular on game days

SEATTLE — Friday’s gameday experience at Climate Pledge Arena was in many ways spectacular. From a visitor’s perspective, the NHL’s 32nd team offered entertainment as good as the Vegas Golden Knights have since they led the expansion race in 2017.

The Seattle Kraken has a remarkable setting to build upon, and if you think the Vegas experience can’t be beaten with an expansion city, you’re wrong.

Following Friday’s 7-3 beatdown by the Avalanche, it appears the Kraken won’t compete for the Stanley Cup as quickly as the Golden Knights did in 2018. But the infrastructure and excitement around this team are bound to make it successful in the long term.

Renovated Climate Pledge Arena, formerly KeyArena and the Seattle Center Coliseum, first opened in 1962 for the World’s Fair. With NHL-expansion aspirations as well as dreams of the NBA returning, the building was gutted in 2018 with a $1.15 billion redevelopment project — with only the unique roof, now labeled a Seattle landmark, untouched.

I’ve now been to all 32 NHL cities/arenas, and right now, Seattle/Climate Pledge Arena should be dubbed a destination spot for any hockey fan with travel aspirations.

Avs defenseman Jack Johnson, who made the team off a tryout contract from training camp, felt fortunate to play against the Kraken at its home in the Pacific Northwest where hockey has always been a big thing. At 34, Johnson was faced with making the Avs or retiring.

He’s thankful to get the chance to play in Seattle.

“It’s a cool city and it’s great that we’re getting more (NHL) cities in the United States,” he said. “I think the game is as big as it could ever be in Canada, as healthy as it could be there, and I think the way you grow this game now is in the United States. You got your hockey hotbeds — the East Coast, Michigan, Minnesota — and it’s slowly getting bigger in other areas. The more we can expose more people in the United States to it, the healthier this league will be.”

Johnson has played in 13 of 14 games for the Avs (8-5-1) and is just 37 regular-season games from reaching 1,000. Only 55 U.S.-born players have reached the century mark.

“I know what’s on the table. It’s a cool milestone,” said Johnson, who was born in Indiana and raised in Michigan. “I know it’s one of the benchmarks for longevity. So it would be something that I’m proud of. It’s something that could happen but it’s still kind of a long way away, in a player’s mind.”

Bednar or bust. The Avalanche’s motto is basically Stanley Cup or bust. There is only one goal and anything short of winning the Cup will be a disappointment.

That was supported by the two-year contract extension given to Avs coach Jared Bednar, who did not have a contract next season before the club announced the extension here Friday before the game. The window to win might not end when Bednar’s extension concludes in 2024.

“I feel like the best is still yet to come,” Bednar, just one win shy of tying Bob Hartley (193) as the Avs’ all-time winningest coach. “We’ve been learning. The road to success is very rarely linear, where it’s just like, ‘Yep, this is where we got to get to and you just go there and win.’

“There’s always ups and downs in the road. I think Joe understands that. I understand that. I think our team understands that now … We’ll have setbacks along the way but I think we can still do it with this group. I believe in them.”

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