It’s been said hundreds of times since Sunday. Really, from the moment Philipp Grubauer joyously leapt into the air with his hands raised high above his head to signal the clock had run out and the Seattle Kraken had just defeated the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, people haven’t stopped saying it.

“You’re a hockey town now, Seattle!”

No one saw it coming.

Seattle has been a hockey town, of course. Fans have wanted the NHL to expand into the Northwest for decades, and we’ve been taunted and teased with the possibility since the '70s.

In 2011, Chris Hansen tried to lure the Sonics back to Seattle with promises of an NHL expansion team and a $490 million arena in Sodo. The Stranger loved the idea! The Seattle City Council did not.

Landing an NHL team in Seattle looked promising two years later, when the Arizona Coyotes were threatening to relocate if Glendale, AZ didn’t agree to a pricy lease agreement. Moving trucks were literally standing by to drive the Coyotes to Emerald City! But after hours of public comment—all of which I watched via glitchy livestream from my Lower Queen Anne apartment—the Glendale City Council voted in favor of keeping the team in Arizona.

(Nerdy aside: That deal was supposed to secure a home for the Coyotes at the Desert Diamond Arena until 2028, but the City ended its relationship with the team last year, and now the Coyotes are playing in a 5,000-seat college arena in Tempe, lol lol lol.)

Anyway, finally, it happened. On December 4, 2018, the NHL Board of Governors unanimously approved a Seattle expansion team. You know the story. And a lot of history has been made since the Kraken took the ice to play their first regular season game on October 12, 2021. First goal (Ryan Donato)! First win (October 14, 2021, against the Nashville Predators)! First hat trick (Jordan Eberle)! 

But it's what’s happening off the ice that is truly carving Seattle’s name into NHL’s history books. The NHL is obsessed with tradition and afraid of progress. In 2017, Vice reported that "the NHL has some of the world's most rapidly aging fans" and (rightfully) blamed "the league's lack of a forward-thinking attitude." 

I love hockey, but hockey can be so hard to love. As a long-time Nashville Predators fan, I’ve had to question my NHL fandom more times than Brad Marchand has been suspended for being an asshole.

The Kraken are changing that.

In 2019, after The Athletic reported that men held 96% of hockey operations jobs in the NHL, the Seattle Kraken hired Cammi Granato as the NHL’s first female pro scout. The Kraken continued to buck trends in 2022 when they named Jessica Campbell the assistant coach of their American Hockey League team, the Coachella Valley Firebirds, making her the first woman coach in AHL history. 

In the summer of 2020, when NHL players were being praised by MAGA nuts like Eric Trump for not kneeling during the national anthem and the league was criticized for saying everything but Black Lives Matter, the Seattle Kraken named Everett Fitzhugh as their play-by-play announcer, making Fitzhugh the first Black full-time play-by-play announcer in the league. That year, the Kraken were also the first NHL team to join Black Girl Hockey Club's Get Uncomfortable campaign. In 2022, Kraken analyst and former NHLer J.T. Brown joined Fitzhugh to call a road game against Winnipeg, and the pair “became the first all-Black broadcasting duo in NHL history," according to NPR

The Kraken embrace Pride Night while other teams and players refuse to so much as touch a stick adorned with rainbow tape. The Kraken celebrate their community with Hockey Is for Everyone theme nights, including Indigenous Peoples Night and Black Hockey History Night, while other teams insultingly continue to misread the room with shit like a Law Enforcement Appreciation Night complete with a “thin blue line” T-shirt giveaway. (In 2022! In fucking Minnesota of all places!)

The Kraken are not perfect, I know. They’re partners with Amazon, the world's greediest corporation, and earlier this year they dissed beloved local band Who Is She?, which was total bullshit. But it hit me as I watched Game 7, and again as I listened to NHL commentators and journalists recognize Seattle as a hockey town, finally.

With that win, hockey culture didn't just become a part of Seattle; Seattle, and its more progressive, inclusive politics became part of hockey culture. No matter what happens in the playoff series against the Dallas Stars—Game 1 starts tonight at 6:30 pm—the Kraken have proven to one of the nation's most stubborn and old-fashioned sports leagues that a franchise doesn't need to adhere to unspoken, antiquated rules to build a fanbase, to sell tickets, and to win.

That’s Kraken hockey, baby.