The Seattle Kraken is scheduled to play its inaugural home game at the new Climate Pledge Arena Oct. 23 against the Vancouver Canucks. The Kraken will be the first hockey franchise to represent Seattle since the Totems skated 46 years ago and the 32nd team to join the National Hockey League. With around 296,000 Twitter followers already, it’s an understatement to say Seattleites are excited to have a hockey team they can call their own again. What fans might not know much about is the philanthropic work being done by the Seattle Kraken.
While head coach Dave Hakstol has been busy drafting the most skilled players for the sport, the philanthropic branch of the Kraken, One Roof Foundation, has been focusing on ways to help unhoused youth. Over the next decade, the foundation, along with Climate Pledge Arena, has committed $10 million to YouthCare to fight youth homelessness in Seattle.
“There’s more than 40,000 public school students in our state that are facing housing insecurity,” said Annemarie Scalzo, the Kraken’s director of Community Partnerships and Programs. “It’s clear that the status quo isn’t really working, and so we were hoping that by focusing on youth homelessness specifically and partnering with a regional nonprofit leader, YouthCare, that we can make a real meaningful impact and difference in this space and help change the lives of kids and young adults that are working to break the cycle of homelessness.”
For the last two years, before the Kraken had a team name or any players, Scalzo said they have been building a partnership with YouthCare. “This relationship is really fundamental to who we are as an organization,” Scalzo said.
Scalzo said that through this partnership, at-risk youth will have access to internships, professional development training, mentorship and networking opportunities with the Kraken. This also includes entry-level jobs at Climate Pledge Arena and within the Kraken workforce. Right now, Scalzo said they are focused on building out a strong foundation for this program and are organizing workshops for job-application support, interview prep and hiring fairs.
“We’re definitely hoping to engage our players throughout our partnership with YouthCare. We’re still figuring out exactly what that looks like, especially given all of our current COVID-19 protocols,” Scalzo said.
Intentionality on the ice
Historically, hockey has been known as a racially white sport, with over 94% of NHL players identifying as white. To help rectify the lack of diversity in the sport, Scalzo said the Kraken is trying to build a more inclusive infrastructure and challenge the status quo on and off the rink.
“We acknowledge that the demographics of our sport don’t really represent the broader community. … We are off to a good start with having one of the most diverse front offices in the NHL,” Scalzo said. In addition to youth homelessness, the Kraken is focusing on bringing hockey to marginalized BIPOC communities. Scalzo said the Kraken is partnering with schools and youth organizations to help make both floor and ice hockey more accessible.
Basketball courts and baseball fields can be found easily throughout the country, but there is an understandable scarcity of hockey rinks in warmer states. For example, Google Maps shows six indoor ice arenas in King County, while there are 25 ice rinks, indoor and outdoor, in just the city of Minneapolis.
“I think access is a really big thing when it comes to hockey, especially in non-traditional hockey markets,” Kraken television analyst J.T. Brown of Root Sports said. “I have experience growing up living in Minnesota where every five minutes there’s a hockey rink or even a pond where in the winter — that’s where most people go out — and you have access to try the sport.”
To change the demographic of the fan base and inspire a diverse pool of participants in the sport, Brown said it all starts with youth and their exposure to the game. In turn, he expects this to change the racial breakdown of the NHL and the people it employs.
“I’ve worked in Tampa, which is a non-traditional hockey market where rinks are very scarce, and ball hockey definitely worked getting them on the ice. You kind of find a lot of people who may have never even played hockey, watched hockey — don’t know what hockey is — but as soon as they try it, they love it,” Brown said.
Kyle Boyd, the Kraken’s director of Youth and Community Development, said the Kraken’s Community Iceplex is offering a number of opportunities for kids, mostly to learn to skate for free or at a heavily subsidized cost. Boyd said what sets the Kraken apart from other organizations is that they want to support kids throughout their youth and into their adolescence.
“We’re not just thinking about providing a one-off opportunity, but supporting youth and families as they want to continue to grow and develop and become future NHL All Stars, hopefully one day,” Boyd said.
Finding ways to contribute to the advancement of the Seattle community is a top Kraken priority that could become a standard for other franchises. “What we’ve been working and building is very unique in the NHL landscape and very unique in the landscape of professional sports,” Boyd said. “The more we tell this side of the story, the more other teams, both locally and nationally and internationally, will want to similarly make a difference in their communities.”
Samira George covers real people living real lives in the Puget Sound. Follow her on Twitter @samirakgeorge.
Read more of the Sept. 22-28, 2021 issue.