Seattle’s New NHL Franchise Highlights the Lack of Competition in I-5 Rivalry

Seattle’s Mayor, Jenny Durkan, announces the approval of Seattle’s NHL expansion team bid. While both Seattle and Portland have multiple professional sports teams, only their MLS and NWSL teams regularly face off. (Photo via Creative Commons)

After a century-long drought, professional hockey has returned to the Northwest. On December 4, 2018, the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Board of Governors unanimously approved Seattle’s bid to become the 32nd NHL franchise. The yet-to-be-named team will be the first Seattle-based professional squad to take the ice since 1924, when the Seattle Metropolitans closed up shop seven years after bringing the city its first ever major sports championship.

The new Seattle team will give the city its fourth out of five “Big Five” sports franchises, joining the National Football League’s Seahawks, Major League Baseball’s Mariners, and Major League Soccer’s Sounders and National Women’s Soccer League’s Reign. Because Portland lacks professional teams that Seattle has, many Oregonians’ fandoms gravitate towards the teams up North. “I’m excited to have a team closer to Portland,” says Gwilym Horner (9), an avid hockey fan. “With the success of the recent Las Vegas [Golden Knights] expansion team, I think it will be a good move.”

Come the 2021-22 NHL season, when Seattle is slated to begin competition, the grand total of “I-5 Rivalries” between Seattle and Portland sports teams will be two. And while the Timbers-Sounders and Thorns-Reign soccer rivalries exemplify the passionate fan bases of both cities, matchups are far too infrequent to rebuild the vicious I-5 Rivalries of the 90’s and 2000’s.

Basketball memories of the past characterize the Portland-Seattle sports feud of old. Separated by 174 miles, a rivalry between Portland’s Trail Blazers and Seattle’s Supersonics sprouted due to sheer proximity. The intense playoff back-and-forth of the 1991 NBA playoffs went to a win-or-go-home game five, seeing the Blazers win and advance to the Western Conference Finals. This set the stage for heated regular season matchups, and because both teams operated within the same division, they played four times each season. In 2008, the Sonics were infamously relocated to Oklahoma City, leaving a Seattle-sized hole in the hearts of fans on both sides of the Columbia. In only three years of existence, from 2000-2002, Portland’s WNBA team, the Fire, had its fair share of close games with Seattle’s Storm. When Stacey Thomas, a Portland draftee, opted to sign with the Storm in 2002, she was heavily criticized by the Fire fan base.

There is a possibility of a future “I-5 Rivalry” in baseball, as in the past few months, a Portland-based ownership group has made serious strides in bringing an MLB team to Portland. The prospects of a baseball rivalry, however, would take years to come to fruition, with Portland’s first pitch coming in 2022 at the very earliest.

When asked about the future prospects of geographical sports rivalries for the city, Seattle’s mayor, Jenny Durkan, in reference to the new NHL team, said to the Seattle Times, “We saw the [Vancouver] Canucks are excited to come here and get beat. And we’re excited to go up North.” While Northwest rivalries like a Seattle-Vancouver one could be entertaining, it doesn’t share the same excitement as a cross-Columbia clash between two cities with a storied history and competitive nature between two similar populations and cultures. By pitting more Pacific Northwest teams against each other, a richer and more successful sports culture can be created.

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