Seattle Thunderbirds’ GM: NHL team ‘would be great’ for all local hockey

Feb 15, 2018, 7:03 PM | Updated: Feb 16, 2018, 5:54 am
thunderbirds, farwell...
Russ Farwell, the former general manager of the NHL Hockey Philadelphia Flyers, and the current general manager of the Seattle Thunderbirds, sits in his office at the ShoWare Center in Kent. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
LISTEN: Seattle Thunderbirds' GM reacts to possible NHL expansion to Seattle

Seattle Thunderbirds’ General Manager Russ Farwell is the definition of an ice hockey lifer. Born in Peace River, Alberta, Farwell began playing the game as soon as he could walk and became a professional coach at 21. He’s moved back and forth across Canada and the United States in his 61 years in pursuit of work in amateur and professional hockey, including a four-year stint as the general manager for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Seattle hockey group to announce season tickets sales

So how does Farwell, the man who is running Seattle’s existing hockey team, feel about the possibility of big-league competition coming to play?

Pretty great, if you ask him.

“The NHL is going to drive so much more interest in the game,” he said Thursday. “We think we’d kind of be pulled along with that enthusiasm as the game gets going in this area. It’s kind of the last area to get turned to the NHL in the United States.”

Currently, plans are underway for a $600 million renovation of Seattle’s Key Arena. At the center of that plan is an ongoing bid for a National Hockey League franchise.

The Seattle Thunderbirds, who formerly played at KeyArena in Seattle Center but now play at the ShoWare Center in Kent, are members of the 22-team Western Hockey League, the top amateur league in North America. With players ranging in age from 16- to 20-years-old, the league develops draft picks for minor professional leagues and NHL teams. For example, New York Islanders player and Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Mathew Barzal played last year for the Thunderbirds. The Las Vegas Golden Knights’ Shea Theadore did the same three years ago.

Farwell said his team, which averages 4,800 fans a game, sells approximately 1,600 season tickets a year. He said he does not expect an NHL franchise to do anything but good for the feeder leagues.

“There should be a real uptick in people who see it and want to be involved in it. And we think that will be a positive thing for us.”

Additionally, Farwell likes the cost comparison between a single NHL ticket and taking your whole family to a Thunderbirds game. The Thunderbirds regularly have 2-for-1 deals for tickets. A hot dog at the game will set you back a full $2. In all, it will cost less to buy a good seat and eat at a game in Kent ($20) than it will be to park at an NHL game in Seattle, he said.

Should Seattle get a team, ticket prices could average north of $200 each, if NHL seat averages are any indication. And, of course, there is Seattle traffic to deal with, particularly the Mercer Mess.

“It’s a different animal here in Kent,” Farwell said with a chuckle. “It’s free to park.”

He said the NHL’s biggest potential effect on the region could be building a stronger, deeper youth culture around hockey. Farwell, who has lived in the region for 20 years, noted that every local rink is booked solid all day. Kids who want to play can’t get sufficient ice time. Boys and girls who grow up playing hockey, stay as fans when they are adults, he said. Sports economists credit the rise in soccer’s growing domestic popularity in recent years with the massive, co-ed participation in youth leagues for the past three decades.

“I am hoping it has a bigger effect than ticket sales,” he said. “There is plenty of room in this area for more hockey.”

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Seattle Thunderbirds’ GM: NHL team ‘would be great’ for all local hockey