Before the Thorns, Portland had a Power surge

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Once upon a time, a women’s professional sports team in Portland was capturing the imagination of the city, drawing big crowds and had become the flagship team for a league struggling in many other areas.

These days, that would be the Portland Thorns. But before the Thorns, there was the Portland Power, and many of the same aspects that make the Thorns special were seen in the brief, but spectacular, few seasons that the Power existed.

In the annuls of Portland sports history, the Power would make for an interesting chapter. They were only in existence between 1996-98, just over two seasons. But what they did in those seasons was wake up a fanbase not really served by the NBA’s Trail Blazers, WHL’s Winterhawks or PCL’s Beavers.

Because the fanbase that is celebrated at Thorns games, including the large number of young girls, a big part of the region’s lesbian community and area families, were the fanbase of the Power. They hooked on to the team from Day 1, and didn’t let up until the American Basketball League folded at the end of 1998.

Those Power teams were fun to watch, as well, especially after Lin Dunn took over as head coach midway through the 1996-97 season. There was fantastic talent on the Power, with ex-Tennessee star Michelle Marciniak running the show from the point, former UCLA star Natalie Williams controlling the paint, local legend Katy Steding shooting threes and Lisa Harrison working the perimeter.

Though the Power missed the playoffs their first season, attendance was already building. Crowds of between 7-8,000 were not uncommon in Memorial Coliseum, and they were an enthusiastic group during the bad times and when Dunn started to build for 1997-98.

The 1997-98 season was one to remember, and I admit a bit of bias on this. I was the home radio producer for the Power that season, handling duties for play-by-play voice Kevin Toon (who also was the media relations director for the Power the first two seasons). The Power added Delisha Milton and Sylvia Crawley to the team, and they went on to win the ABL Western Conference that season with a 27-17 record. The fun in the Coliseum that season was amazing, as the Power were far and away the biggest drawing home team in the ABL. They even approached 10,000 on a few nights as the team stayed in first place.

The memories of that season are still vivid to me. For that season, Williams may have been the best all-around center in the women’s game (yes, I’m including Lisa Leslie in that). Marciniak was the crowd favorite with her hard-nosed play, ability to control the game and willingness to get in the face of an opposing player if she needed. Steding continued her high level of play in front of her hometown fans, and Milton added a spark that seemed to start runs as needed.

Then, of course, there was Lin Dunn. Few coaches in Portland history ever had the impact, or could be as entertaining, as Dunn. I often had to turn down the crowd mike when she’d go after a ref or got upset with a bad play. Her yell of “MICHELLE!!!” when trying to get Marciniak’s attention would echo though the Coliseum, even when the big crowds were cranking up the noise. Those of us on press row, and even players on the bench, would often have Lin Dunn sound-alike contests. Heck, Dunn herself would chime in on those on occasion, just to loosen things up. On occasion, she’d give a thumbs up, a wavy hand or a thumbs down to the fans behind the bench who tried to mimic her vocal style.

The type of crowd seen at Power games was different than what Portland had seen, as well. The number of girls’ basketball teams who would come out, dressed proudly in team gear, and filling sections of the Coliseum was often quite large. They would line up around the court for autographs with Power players after games, and players like Williams, Marciniak, Steding and Harrison were as big to the girls in the Portland metro area as any of the Blazers. That ticket prices were reasonable and it was a “family atmosphere: also added to the appeal of the team.

Power games were also a big occasion for Portland’s LGBTQ community, especially lesbians. It was no secret that a number of Power season ticket holders were lesbian couples, and the Power were the first team that they felt like they could call their own. They were comfortable being themselves at Power games, and they every night was a big occasion. The recent Willamette Week article that called Portland Thorns’ games the city’s biggest LGBTQ cocktail party and biggest lesbian bar in the city…well, that was a Portland Power game in 1996-98. They were some of the team’s biggest fans, and their passion for the team and the game was on full display. In a sense, the Power gave a glimpse to what we would see with the Thorns years later.

The Power lost to Long Beach in the conference finals that season, but all seemed to be set for a title run in the 1998-99 ABL season. Outside of Columbus, who had won the first two ABL titles (coached by Brian Alger, one of the best women’s pro basketball coaches of all time), no team in the league was as stable as Portland.

But there were issues beyond the control of the Power that would seal its doom. The first was the league itself, which always seemed to operate on shoestring and emphasized national sponsorships over local money. While the Power had no problems getting local sponsors, the often-haphazard decisions coming from league staff was a big issue with other teams in the league. The crew in the Power offices often had to scramble when a decision from the ABL would come out with no notice to the teams, sometimes on game nights.

Another issue was the “other league”, the WNBA. The battle between the ABL and the WNBA was fierce and cutthroat, and because Nike was based in the Portland suburb of Beaverton, Power games often were a battleground for player recruitment. It wasn’t unusual for Lisa Leslie to sit behind the visiting team’s bench, talking to players before and after games trying to get them to jump to the WNBA. That the ABL was Reebok league added to this, as Leslie was Nike’s main client in women’s basketball at that time.

(No, I can’t say whether Leslie was trying to recruit players for Nike, because I don’t know, but she was recruiting for the WNBA.)

Each league had its strong points. The ABL had most of the best players in women’s basketball and played during “basketball season”, between November and April. The WNBA had the money because of the backing of the NBA and because of its summer schedule, players could play overseas for more money in the fall and spring, and players could make more money overseas than in the ABL.

Then there was the lack of support from other teams in Portland. The Trail Blazers couldn’t openly support the Power because of the NBA-WNBA connection, but members of the Blazers would show up at Power games on occasion. Otherwise, support from the Blazers’ staff was more tepid, at best.

The Portland Winterhawks didn’t like the presence of the Power at all, because they lost possible home dates in the Coliseum (the Hawks couldn’t get more than a few dates in the Rose Garden in those days, as opposed to the big presence they have in the big arena now) and that the Power outdrew the Hawks on a number of occasions. The Power were seen as a threat to the Winterhawks’ position as the number two team in Portland to some in the Hawks office, and rarely did I see Hawks staff any grumpier than when they were playing in the Garden on the same night the Power were in the Coliseum. If they bragged about their Memorial Cup win to anyone, it was to those connected with the Power, because it gave some in the Hawks’ staff a feeling of superiority over the Power.

It wasn’t to last, of course. By time the 1998-99 season had started, Marciniak was in Long Beach, as was Williams for a brief time. But when the Long Beach team folded, Williams was assigned back to Portland. While the Power was still drawing big crowds, it felt like the ABL itself was doomed. I was still with the team, but was assigned to running the Coliseum scoreboard because the new radio play-by-play broadcaster didn’t want me as producer and the new media relations director wasn’t sure what to do with me. Games were still fun, but dealing with the league wasn’t.

It all came to a crashing end three days before Christmas in 1998, when the ABL announced the entire league was going out of business. It was done by press release, so many of the Power players and staff didn’t have prior notice of the collapse (I found out by listening to the radio, not from anyone with the Power). Just like that, the Power was gone, but they made an impact on the city and its fans that is still looked back on by some with a smile.

The WNBA did put a team in Portland, as the Fire played for three seasons starting in 2000. But the Fire never drew the crowds that the Power did, with some fans blaming the WNBA as much for the Power’s demise as the ABL itself and thus not supporting the new team. While Crawley and Marciniak returned to Portland to play for the Fire, and college sensation Jackie Stiles being a big league a draw, the Fire never matched the passion that the Power did. Despite an attempt by a local group (which included Clyde Drexler) to purchase the Fire, Paul Allen and the Trail Blazers (who owned and operated the team) folded the team after the 2002 season. For women’s pro sports in Portland, that was the end until the Thorns started up in 2013.

It wouldn’t be surprising if many fans of a certain age at Thorns games were also regulars at Power games. Much of the passion we see now at Providence Park for Portland’s NWSL team was seen at Memorial Coliseum for Portland’s ABL team. In a league structure, the Power was much like to the unstable ABL as the Thorns are now to the NWSL. The big difference, of course, is that there’s no real national competition for players for NWSL clubs like the WNBA was to the ABL.

But, for a brief time in the 1990s, there was excitement for women’s professional sports in Portland. Their time was short, but the Power gave us a glimpse of how fun women’s professional sports could be, and how passionate the fans could be for that. I believe they laid the groundwork for what we would see with the Thorns, and should be remembered as such.

The Portland Power was more than a footnote in Portland sports history. They were groundbreakers.

(Photo is the Portland Power logo from a shirt the author still owns from his time working with the team.)

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Mixed fortunes for OHL, QMJHL moves into US markets over the years

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While the success of US-based teams in the Western Hockey League is long-standing, it took a while for the concept to take hold in the two eastern major junior hockey leagues.

The Ontario Hockey League has been in the US for over 25 years, though stability of their teams has been questioned at times. The experience for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, though, hasn’t been good, with instability being the norm.

Amazingly, it was the QMJHL that was the second major junior hockey league that expanded into the US. But, as with most decisions in the Q in the 1980s, it wasn’t well thought out.

They went into New York in 1984, but the expansion Plattsburgh Pioneers didn’t last long. They were hampered by numerous issues, including a lack of stable finances, no expansion draft to stock the team, a decision from the QMJHL office that forbid them from having any Quebec-born players (or any other player within the Q’s player base) on their roster and the league not allowing Plattsburgh to recruit anywhere in the US outside of specific areas of the northeast US. After going winless in 17 games (0-16-1), along with a home arena that opened late (thus playing at Plattsburgh State’s arena to start), the Pioneers folded. Some consider the team to be the worse in major junior hockey history, but they probably were doomed from the start, with no help from the league.

It was 1990 that the Ontario Hockey League finally secured a base in the US. It made sense that Detroit would be the place, as Peter Karmanos’ Detroit Compuware Ambassadors jumped into the OHL. After failing to move the Windsor Spitfires across the river, Karmanos sold that team and moved the Ambassadors’ top team from the North American Hockey League into the OHL. After two seasons in Cobo Arena, they changed their name, moved next door to Joe Louis Arena and more success came.

The Jr. Red Wings became the first US-based OHL team to win the league title in 1995, when they also made the Memorial Cup Final (losing to the WHL champs and tourney hosts, Kamloops Blazers). But numerous disputes with the NHL’s Red Wings, including a failed bid to purchase the team, led to the team being forced out of Joe Louis Arena. Karmanos would eventually rename the team the Detroit Whalers, after his newly purchased Hartford Whalers, and they moved to the Detroit suburbs of Oak Hill and Auburn Hills (playing in The Palace of Auburn Hills, the home of the NBA Pistons, for a time). Eventually he would settle the team in the western suburb of Plymouth, where the Whalers would stay for 18 years.

The next OHL team in the US was the Erie Otters. The Pennsylvania city came into the OHL in 1996, when the Niagara Falls Thunder moved to the city. They have had mixed success on the ice, capped by winning the OHL title in 2002, a finals appearance in 2015 and recent success spurred by the arrival of Connor McDavid in 2012.

However, the McDavid years in Erie almost didn’t happen. Legal issues between Otters ownership and a subsidiary of the Edmonton Oilers, that supposedly was to lead to a sale and move of the team to Hamilton, Ontario, led to a massive financial drain on the team. The Otters’ owner, Sherry Bassin, filed for bankruptcy in 2015, but eventually were sold to a new ownership group that was committed to keeping the team in Erie. The legal issues seem to be behind the team, and the Otters can once again strive for stability.

Saginaw came into the OHL in 2002 when the North Bay Centennials were moved there and were renamed the Saginaw Spirit. While the team regularly makes the playoffs, they’ve only made the OHL quarterfinals three times. The team has had steady attendance in recent years, though 2015-16 was the worst season the team has had in the stands. That might change with the help of a new rival that arrived in 2015.

Those would be the Flint Firebirds, which moved from Plymouth after Karmanos sold the team. But it was a very long first season, to say the least. The club’s new owner, Rolf Nelsen, fired the coaching staff on two occasions (supposedly for not playing his son enough), each time leading to a player revolt. After the second coaching clearout, the OHL took over the team, suspended Nelsen and worked to bring a sense of normalcy to the team. Eventually, Nelsen was suspended for five seasons, and could be forced to sell the team if he tries to get involved in hockey operations again during that time. But things have stabilized for now in Flint, and with the emergence of the new/old rivalry with Saginaw, the Firebirds have a chance to gain a foothold on the Michigan hockey scene.

As for the QMJHL, they tried one more time to go into the US. In 2003, the Sherbrooke Castors moved to Lewiston, Maine, and became the Lewiston MAINEiacs. Their home, the Androscoggin Bank Colisée, was more known as the site of the legendary second Ali-Liston fight, but the MAINEiacs were there for eight seasons. The highlight was in 2007, when they became the first American team to win the QMJHL title. They lost in the Memorial Cup tiebreaker game, but making it to Vancouver was the peak. But the team always struggled to work financially in central Maine, even with the title run.

For years afterward, the MAINEiacs were the subject of numerous relocation rumors, with one relocation attempt to the Montréal suburb of Boisbriand stopped by another QMJHL team, the short-lived Montréal Junior. Talks with other cities failed, and in 2011 the QMJHL ended up buying the team. After the league bought the MAINEiacs, it disbanded the club. A year later, the team was back in Sherbrooke, beginning new life as the Phoenix, and the Q was once again the only major junior league without a US-based club.

Any future growth for the OHL and QMJHL in the US may be tied to cities losing their AHL teams. Binghamton is close enough for an OHL owner to consider (ironically, they’re likely losing their AHL team to Belleville, Ontario, which just lost its OHL team last season), but whether fans would accept a junior team after losing a longtime AHL franchise is questionable. Unless an owner wants to return to suburban Detroit or put a team in western New York, there may not be many options for more US teams in the OHL.

As for the QMJHL, the options are even fewer. One might look at Portland, Maine, as they just lost their AHL team and could be a rival for Saint John. Otherwise, any other locations that the Q could even consider already have college teams, which is the main competition for players for the three junior leagues.

The one thing going for the three leagues is that the main US junior league, the USHL, is mostly in markets that are too far away to ever be considered competition for cities. The exception may be Youngstown, which would be a natural rival for Erie and is well separated from the rest of the USHL.  But whether the OHL would want to go into Ohio, or go as far south as Youngstown, is not known.

Mixed success would be the best way to describe the efforts of the OHL in the US, while failure could be the word for the QMJHL’s forays south of the border. While the WHL is light years ahead in history and stability in the US, at least the OHL has Erie, Saginaw & Flint to continue to build their presence on the American side of the border. It would be surprising, however, if the Q ever goes back to the US to place a team because of its subpar history in Plattsburgh and Lewiston.

Maybe in the future, both leagues may look to the US to put a team. Right now, don’t count on it.

(The article on the history of US-based teams in the Western Hockey League can be found here)

(Photo of Flint Firebirds player Vili Saarijärvi by “Jfvoll” from Wikimedia Commons, used via Creative Commons license)

 

US teams in WHL vital, thriving 40 years after Portland made junior hockey history

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Forty years ago this summer, a moment that forever changed the hockey world in North America, especially junior hockey, took place.

The moment that Brian Shaw announced that he was moving the Edmonton Oil Kings to Portland, where they would become the Winterhawks, shook the hockey landscape. The team had been struggling as the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers became more popular, and it was decided that a move was needed to get the club back on track.

After being blocked from moving to Vancouver by the New Westminster Bruins, and taking into account coach Ken Hodge’s preference to move the team to Spokane, Shaw decided that Portland and its Memorial Coliseum was the place to be. Thus, Canadian major junior hockey set up shop in the United States, and it’s never left.

(Kamloops sportswriter Gregg Drinnan posted a story by longtime Winterhawks broadcaster Dean Vrooman on how the move transpired that’s well worth your time.)

It took a few years, but Portland hockey fans, used to the professional game and the highly successful Buckaroos, eventually took the Hawks into their hearts. It was the 1978-79 season, when the Hawks lost just 10 regular season games, that was the turning point in the franchise. Portland finally got past the Bruins in the playoffs and pushed a legendary Brandon Wheat Kings team, who lost only five games in the regular season, to six games in the WHL Finals. Where small crowds were mostly the norm the first couple of years in Memorial Coliseum (prompting one politician to try and force the Hawks to move to the considerably smaller Jantzen Beach Ice Arena), they picked up during that season.

But by then, Shaw’s move to Portland already had major impacts on the league and on Canadian major junior hockey. The year after the Oil Kings moved to Portland, the Kamloops Chiefs packed up for Seattle and became the Breakers, while the Calgary Centennials shifted to Billings, Montana and became the Bighorns. The league even changed its name, going from the Western Canada Hockey League to the Western Hockey League, the name of the old professional circuit that fans in Canada and the United States loved in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.

There was some early success outside of Portland. Billings was the first US-based team to make the playoff finals of a Canadian major junior hockey league, losing to New Westminster in the 1978 WHL Finals. Seattle was able to revive the long-time rivalry with Portland, giving the WHL another set of must-follow dates on the schedule.

It was also a badly needed move for the league, giving the then-Western Canada Hockey League a fourth team west of the Rocky Mountains, joining New Westminster, Victoria and (at that time) Kamloops in the West Division. The WCHL, mainly a Prairies-based league, was able to expand its footprint into new areas that also brought in needed revenue.

Of course, the move into the US was filled with ups and downs for the WHL. A second edition of the Edmonton Oil Kings moved to Great Falls, Montana in 1979 and became the Americans. Even with a new Four Seasons Arena to play in, that team lasted just 29 games before folding, but resurfaced the following season as the Spokane Flyers. The Flyers lasted a bit longer, making it through one season before folding 26 games into its second, the 1981-82 season. The Billings Bighorns lasted five seasons before moving to Nanaimo, BC, having never recaptured the great success of their first season.

Seattle, playing in the old Seattle Center Arena, struggled to break into the mindset of the fans who were still coming off of the disappointment of the failed move of the Totems from the old pro WHL into the NHL, and always seemed to be financially behind the rest of the league (leading to the infamous trade of Tom Martin to Victoria for a used team bus).

In the meantime, Portland was still creating history. The Winterhawks became the first US-based team to win a major junior hockey league title in 1982, when they beat the Regina Pats in the final, and thus became the first American team to compete for the Memorial Cup. While they came up short in Hull, Quebec, the experience led Shaw, still running the team, to propose something that would, again, shake junior hockey.

First, Shaw wanted Portland to host the Memorial Cup tournament in 1983, taking the event into the US for the first time. Second, after seeing the small crowds that attended the 1982 event in Hull that involved Portland, Kitchener (OHL) and Sherbrooke (QMJHL), he proposed that the host team also be a part of the tournament, expanding it to four teams and eliminating the double round-robin format before the final game. Both ideas were approved, and the 1983 Memorial Cup made history. That the Hawks, who had lost to Lethbridge in the WHL Finals, ended up winning the Memorial Cup added to the historic nature of the event, as they became the first American team to win junior hockey’s biggest prize. They also hosted in 1986, but didn’t make the final (the OHL’s Guelph Platers won the Cup).

The success of Portland and Seattle ended up offsetting the failures in Great Falls, Billings and Spokane for the WHL, and soon teams were moving back south of the border. The Kelowna Wings, after three seasons in tiny Memorial Arena, moved to Spokane and became the Chiefs. Unlike the last time the WHL was in the eastern Washington city, there was no successful senior amateur team to compete with (Spokane won four Allan Cups between 1970-80), and the Chiefs gained a foothold. After a few tricky years at the beginning, the Chiefs eventually became a major success, winning the Memorial Cup in 1991 and 2008 while hosting in 1998. Spokane holds the honor of being the last US city to host a Memorial Cup, and it was won by another American side, the Winterhawks.

Spokane’s success led to another move into the US market for the WHL, as the second version of the New Westminster Bruins (formerly the Billings Bighorns and Nanaimo Islanders) moved to southeastern Washington and became the Tri-City Americans. While the first 20 seasons were tricky at times, with move threats happening on occasion (WHL expansion to Vancouver and Chilliwack was a direct result of the league blocking owners from moving the Ams to those cities), ownership has stabilized and the team has become a success. The Spokane-Tri-City rivalry has also become one of the core rivalries of the WHL, with sellouts common for their games.

After a while, Seattle finally became more stable. After an ownership change, the team changed its name from Breakers to Thunderbirds in 1985, tapping into a bit of the Totems look. They finally started drawing consistently large crowds to the Arena, to the point that they started playing some games in the much-larger Seattle Center Coliseum, which hadn’t seen hockey since the Totems died over a decade earlier. They even hosted the Memorial Cup in 1992 at the Coliseum, a major accomplishment considering the crazy early history of the team.

However, the WHL wanted to add a second team in western Washington, as well. The first attempt was in Tacoma, where a natural rivalry with nearby Seattle would be set up. However, the Tacoma Dome was oversized and horrible for hockey, and after four seasons the Rockets moved to Kelowna, setting up a very successful run in the BC city in its second WHL attempt. If Tacoma had a smaller arena, maybe the Rockets would have succeeded, but we’ll never know.

The WHL eventually got another team in the Puget Sound region. There was a threat to move the Thunderbirds from Seattle’s KeyArena (which, after a basketball-centric remodel, became barely usable for hockey) to a new arena in Everett, 30 miles to the north. In the end, the T-Birds were sold, stayed in KeyArena for a few more years (before moving to a new arena in suburban Kent), and the former owner got an expansion team in Everett. The Silvertips made history by making the WHL Finals in their first season, and have established a solid fan base since.

Success came to all five teams now in the US Division. Portland and Spokane have both won the Memorial Cup twice, the only American teams to do so. Seattle has been to the league final twice, including last season. Everett and Tri-City have both been to the league finals, as well, while the US Division is often seen as the toughest division in the WHL.

What’s the future of US-based teams in the WHL? The five teams in the US Division (Everett, Portland, Seattle, Spokane, Tri-City) have all become very successful and are staying put for a long time. Even with the league tending to not include the American teams in promotions and special events, those five are among the healthiest teams in the league. They’ve done it on their own, and the WHL wouldn’t be the same, or as healthy, without them.

Are there American cities that could be future sites for a WHL team? There have been occasional mentions of Wenatchee as a possible future team location. They have a fairly-new 4,500-seat arena and have drawn very well for its current junior team, the Wenatchee Wild (which moved up to the BCHL last season and immediately had the best home attendance in the league). Billings still has Rimrock Arena, the same 10,000-seat arena that the Bighorns played in many years ago. But at this point, Billings is too far out of the way from the rest of the league to ever be considered seriously again. No other American city even gets in the discussion now.

While once upon a time places like Boise and Anchorage (who now have ECHL teams) were discussed, the current reality is that the WHL doesn’t have many places south of the border where they could expand, mainly because cities of decent size are too far from the border and would be tough to get to in a bus league.

But that they were even discussed at one point shows how vital the American teams are to the WHL. While Brian Shaw was seen as maybe a bit crazy when he got the league to approve the Oil Kings’ move to Portland in 1976, hindsight shows that it was a moment of genius. It gave junior hockey new areas to grow in and showed the hockey world that the Northwest was still a hotbed for the sport.

All one needs to do is go to a game in Everett, Portland, Spokane, Kent (Seattle) or Kennewick (Tri-City) to see that.

(Photo: Portland Winterhawks’ Daniel Johnston, 19 January 2009, by K.C. Gale from Wikimedia Commons)

Five rivers, one lake and paths that once were but are no more

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What remains of the Black River; an indentation on the east side of the Green River in Tukwila, near Fort Dent Park. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Joe Mabel)

Living in Western Washington, there are aspects of the landscape that feels like they were always there, even if they have been altered greatly by man.

The most obvious, of course, is the Lake Washington Ship Canal in Seattle. That’s been there for almost a century, and few (if any) are around who know what Montlake and Fremont looked like before those cuts were made. While it’s tough to think about what those areas looked like before the canal was built, it is much easier to imagine what Lake Washington looked like before the canal built.

The ship canal dropped the level of the lake by nine feet, drastically altering the shoreline and its entire ecosystem. Where the lake had previously drained to the south through the Black River, it now drained west through the canal to Lake Union, Salmon Bay, Shilshole Bay and Puget Sound.

The Black River? Yes, the Black River. It was a fairly short river, draining Lake Washington from Renton to Tukwila, where it merged with the White River and became the Duwamish River. The Black River also was where the Cedar River flowed into south of the lake, meaning the Black was the outlet for two major regional drainage systems.

But, unless you know where to look, there is no more Black River or much sign that it was there. First, Renton diverted the Cedar River into Lake Washington in 1912 to try and prevent a repeat of a major flood that hit the city in 1911 (that’s why, when you look at a map, the last mile or so of the Cedar is very straight). Then, in 1916, the ship canal opened, shifting the lake’s outlet from the Black River to Montlake Cut. That dropped the level of the lake below the level of the Black River, causing the river to dry up. There is a small area near Fort Dent in Tukwila where you can see an indent in the (current) Green River’s east bank, which is where the mouth of the Black River once existed. Otherwise, one may never know there was any evidence of a major river that no longer exists.

The lowering of the lake didn’t just affect the south end. The water flowing through the Sammamish River started to increase, as there was now a bigger elevation difference between Lake Sammamish and Lake Washington. The mouth of the Sammamish, which had been near Bothell, shifted west to a point closer to what is now Kenmore and that is the river mouth that we are familiar with today. It also ended the bulk of navigation on the Sammamish, which had been able to carry boats between the lakes before the ship canal opened (and had been dredged regularly, and curves softened, to keep that traffic going). While the major cosmetic change for the river came in the early 1960s, when King County straightened out the Sammamish between Redmond and Woodinville to control flooding, the Sammamish was forever changed by work done decades earlier.

Then there is the White River. What you know as the White River today isn’t the one that originally existed, at least the portion in King County. It originally ran north through Auburn, Kent and Tukwila before combining with the Black River and becoming the Duwamish for the last part of its journey. The Green River flowed into the White at Auburn, and the White carried the Green’s waters, along with its own, to the Duwamish.

But a combination of nature and man drastically changed the White River in the early part of the 20th Century. After years of logjams and flooding that had farmers in King County trying to divert the White into Pierce County, and Pierce County farmers trying to keep the White on its original course, a major flood in 1906 made the final diversion of the White River into the Stuck River permanent. That meant all of the water from the White River now flowed into the Puyallup River, and eventually into Commencement Bay in Tacoma, instead of into Elliott Bay in Seattle. The part of the White River from the former mouth of the Green River (near downtown Auburn) north to the Black River became the new part of the Green River, and what was the White River Valley became the Green River Valley.

So, in short, the Black River is all but gone, the White River doesn’t flow where it used to, the lower Green River was the White River, the Cedar River flows out in a different spot and the Sammamish River has a different route to get from Lake Sammamish to Lake Washington. All of that changed in a 20 year span, too.

It almost makes one wonder what it would all look like now if nothing had changed, and how different the history of the Puget Sound region could have been..

NHL to Seattle: Third time’s the charm?

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Will the NHL play in KeyArena until the arena in SoDo is completed? It’s a possibility. (Wikimedia Commons photo by “paulyb6”)

Forgive long-time hockey fans in Seattle and around the Northwest if they are somewhat low-key about the rumors of the NHL possibly looking to move the Phoenix Coyotes to the Emerald City.

They’ve been down this road before. Twice.

Seattle actually had been given an NHL expansion team in the mid-70s before ownership issued prompted the league to pull the franchise. The city was also a frontrunner for an expansion team in the early 90s before a major investor unexpectedly pulled out and the effort was killed.

Pro hockey has had an interesting history in Seattle. Of course, the Metropolitans were the first American team to win the Stanley Cup in 1917, playing in an arena located at 5th and University in downtown Seattle. Before World War II, teams called the Eskimos Sea Hawks and Olympics played in the Pacific Coast Hockey League and the Northwest Hockey League. After the war, Seattle was part of another Pacific Coast Hockey League (later to become the original Western Hockey League) when it became professional in the late 40s, with the Ironmen, Bombers, Americans and Totems (the team many in Seattle remember), playing at Civic Arena (later Seattle Center Arena, then Mercer Arena) and Seattle Center Coliseum. Seattle was in the PCHL/WHL until the mid-70s, when something bigger was supposed to come.

The NHL was supposed to start in Seattle for the 1976-77 season, as the city (along with Denver) had been awarded an expansion team in 1974. But, as described in Jeff Obermeyer’s great article posted on the Seattle Hockey Homepage, Vince Abbey’s efforts to secure financing fell through and he paid neither the franchise deposit nor the expansion fee. That led the NHL to take away the franchise from Abbey, which led to a decade of lawsuits and other shenanigans that eventually saw the NHL beat Abbey in court. Meanwhile, the investors in Denver bought the Kansas City Scouts and entered the NHL as the Colorado Rockies (who eventually moved and became the New Jersey Devils).

Seattle was back on the NHL radar as the league again planned on expansion in 1992. Two groups originally had interest, then merged into one as decision time neared. The group included Microsoft executive Chris Larson (who went on to become a part-owner of the Seattle Mariners) and the owner of the Seattle SuperSonics, Barry Ackerley. But, as Obermeyer’s article points out, circumstances again foiled any chance for the NHL to come to Seattle, even though they were a frontrunner for an expansion team. This time, it was Ackerley telling the NHL Board of Governors that Seattle was pulling its application for an expansion team without the knowledge of Larson or the others in group. Ackerley eventually got the city of Seattle to renovate Seattle Center Coliseum to be a basketball-center building, with the hockey setup being an afterthought. So the expansion teams ended up in Ottawa and Tampa.

In a sense, that decision by Ackerley could be seen as the beginning of the series of events that eventually led to the Sonics being moved to Oklahoma City, as Seattle Center couldn’t rely on money from an NHL team to help pay off the finances of the renovations (while the Seattle Thunderbirds played at KeyArena, their revenues were nowhere near what an NHL team would have brought in).

So, this brings us to the current situation. The future of the Phoenix Coyotes is again up in the air, as Greg Jamison’s attempt to secure financing to buy the team has reportedly fallen through. The NHL owns the Coyotes, and while they would love to keep the team there, time may be running out on getting any group to purchase the team and agree to a lease on Jobing.com Arena with the city of Glendale. The owner of the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves, Don Levin, is interested in bringing an NHL team to Seattle and has talked with Chris Hansen about use of the proposed arena in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood. But he told Chris Daniels of KING-TV in Seattle that he hasn’t talked to the NHL about buying the Coyotes. Meanwhile, construction on a new arena in Quebec City moves ahead, as dreams of a return of the Nordiques continue, and it’s believed that Seattle & Quebec City are the frontrunners if the Coyotes do end up moving. In fact, Seattle is becoming mentioned more as a possible site for the Coyotes, with Quebec City likely to get an expansion team. But Levin told Chris Daniels of Seattle’s KING-TV that he has not been in contact with the NHL about the Coyotes, and that the league still wants to keep the team in Glendale.

But if there is an NHL team coming to Seattle, it will likely have to play a couple of seasons in KeyArena, in the off-center setup that originally was the big reason the NHL wasn’t seen as a realistic possibility for Seattle. There’s a little irony in that.

So, we are here yet again. The dream of an NHL team in Seattle, one that has been around for many decades, is seemingly within grasp again. But forgive hockey fans around the region if they take an “I’ll believe it when I see it” approach to any news about a team coming to Seattle.

After all, they’ve been fooled before. Twice.

The “forgotten” Cascades volcano

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Glacier Peak (left) puts on a show on New Year’s Day, along with a few neighbors. Photo taken from the 196th Street SW overpass over I-5 in Lynnwood.

The Cascades has its share of famous volcanoes, and many of them could easily erupt at any time. But of the five main volcanoes in Washington, one always seems to get forgotten, or, at least overshadowed by the other four.

The Sauks knew it as Takobia, but we know it today as Glacier Peak. It’s the only Cascade volcano located in Snohomish County, but it’s also very remote. It has 11 glaciers, thus the name it was given. It may be the least studied of the Cascade volcanoes, and, because of its remoteness, it gets nowhere near the visitors that Baker, Rainier, St. Helens and Adams get.

If one isn’t familiar with the mountain, they may miss it when it stands above the foothills. It’s easily seen on a clear day, but because it doesn’t have the distinctive cone shape that Baker, Rainier and Adams have (and what St. Helens had before the 1980 eruption), some people could look past it, thinking it’s just another peak in the Cascades. This, despite the fact that it’s one of only four mountains in Washington taller than 10,000 feet (Rainier, Adams and Baker being the others).

There has been some recognition recently. When the Snohomish School District opened its new high school a few years ago, it was called “Glacier Peak”. But not a lot has taken the mountain’s name.

But don’t think that Glacier Peak hasn’t had a history. According to the US Geological Survey, only Mt. St. Helens has had eruptions as explosive as Glacier Peak. Mudflows have reached Puget Sound, especially along the Stillaguamish and in the Sauk/Suiattle/White Chuck/Skagit valleys. The last major eruption was in the 1700s, but it could wake from its slumber at any moment.

Ash from Glacier Peak’s eruptions has been found as far away as Alberta and Montana. The Chelan area is built on the ash spewed out by numerous eruptions from the volcano to its west. That ash is one reason why Chelan, Wenatchee and the surrounding areas has become such a vibrant agricultural area, because the ash made the soil very fertile.

However, when Washington’s volcanoes are discussed, Glacier Peak doesn’t get mentioned. Rainier is always associated with Seattle/Tacoma, Baker with Bellingham and St. Helens with Portland/Vancouver. Those volcanoes always loom, the constant reminder of the danger they present. Adams, while not as visible from a major population area, is still well known and easier to get to than Glacier Peak.

But only Rainier is closer to the Puget Sound megalopolis than Glacier Peak. Those who live in the inland portions of the North Puget Sound region and near the Snohomish River delta can see the volcano on a good day. It looms, but it doesn’t stick out like Rainier.

But that’s OK. It almost feels like our little secret, our own unique volcano (at least compared to the others).

Glacier Peak is Snohomish County’s own volcano. It’s different than the others. It’s much harder to get to than the other, more well-known volcanoes in the state.

Maybe it’s better that way. At least, until Takobia wakes up.