Seattle Thunderbirds HistoryAugust 21, 2019 - 06:52 PDT
We’re all here because we follow the great club called the Seattle Thunderbirds but how much do we really know about our team? You can happily turn up on matchdays, blissfully ignorant of the past and no-one will judge you. Simply wear the colors and you’re a fully fledged T-Birds fan.
However, it helps to feel more emotionally invested in the franchise if you have a sense of history. Here, then, is our guide to the evolution of the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Earlier Incarnations of the Team
The Thunderbirds weren’t always the Thunderbirds and they haven’t always been based in Seattle. Like a number of teams in North American sport, our franchise has moved around and over the years, they’ve also crossed a national border.
The team that we now know as the Seattle Thunderbirds first saw life as the Vancouver Nats in 1971. After formation, the franchise was placed in the Western Canada Hockey League but the Nats won’t be remembered as a successful side. In fact, they finished bottom of the division in each of their two years of competition - winning just 27 games out of a possible 136.
With such a forgettable record behind them, it was perhaps a wise decision to move on and relocate the Nats in 1973.
From 1973, the team would relocate to Kamloops in British Columbia where they would remain for the next four years. The switch was seamless in the sense that the Kamloops Chiefs took the place of the Vancouver Nats in the Western Canada Hockey League and for a time, the new boys carried on the performances of their predecessors.
In that 1973/74 season, the Kamloops Chiefs finished bottom of the western division, winning just 13 games out of a possible 68 but fortunately, better times were ahead. In 1974/75, the Chiefs made it to the playoffs for the first time - going down in the quarter finals to Victoria Cougars.
The next two campaigns were also productive with places in the knockouts achieved on both occasions. Ultimate glory was to elude the Kamloops Chiefs, however, and their best result came in 1975/76 when they reached the semi finals.
By 1976/77 the time had come to move on once again.
The franchise moved to their current home in Seattle back in 1977 and for eight seasons, they would be known as the Breakers. Under the new name and location, there was more progression for a side who had now crossed from Canada to the US but remained in the Western Hockey League.
Over those eight seasons, the Seattle Breakers would finish with an overall record of 225-319-32 and a playoff tally of 11-21. They reached the West Division Finals on two separate occasions but, like the teams that went before them, they weren’t quite able to take out the trophy.
Nevertheless, the era of the Seattle Breakers marked some significant progression for the franchise. Firstly, there was some stability and after two names in six seasons, the Breakers were to hang around for the next eight years. Even when a further name change was necessary, the team stayed in Seattle and was therefore able to retain and develop that important fan base.
Some important players came along during this period, including future NHL legend Ken Daneyko who would go on to spend an incredible 20 years with the New Jersey Devils.
The franchise was definitely moving in the right direction when, in 1985, they became the team we know and love today.
The Modern Era of Seattle Thunderbirds
Once the 1984/85 season had come to its conclusion, the Breakers were sold on to new owners and they became the Seattle Thunderbirds. This time, the switch was fairly simple with the club able to stay in the same city and retain most of its roster.
From this point onwards, development was steady and the T-Birds largely continued the trend of making it into the playoffs without actually claiming a trophy.
Some great players passed through the ranks during this time, including Glen Goodall who would go on to become a T-Birds record breaker. During his time with the franchise, Goodall would set the divisional records for assists, points, goals scored and games played. Those marks have since been broken but he still holds the Thunderbirds records for goals, assists and points.
To date, Glen Goodall is the only man to have his numbered jersey retired by the Thunderbirds so clearly he made a huge mark.
By now, the T-Birds were a dangerous team in the WHL and they maintained that respectable level of achievement throughout the 1990s. By the turn of the century, things improved again and in ten seasons from 1999/2000 onwards, they only failed to make it out of the playoffs on one solitary occasion.
2002/03 was a particular highlight as the T-Birds won the US Division and made it through to the Conference Final where they were downed 4-1 by the Kelowna Rockets. The franchise would have to wait until they hit similar heights but the team’s fortunes took a considerable turn for the better in 2015/16.
That was the season that the Seattle Thunderbirds made it all the way to the WHL Championship final having claimed first place in the US Division once again. They lost out to Brandon Wheat Kings in the final series but, as it turned out, that was just a platform for the T-Birds’ first major success.
In 2016/17, the T-Birds would go one better, winning that divisional final and claiming the Ed Chynoweth Cup. To date, that achievement hasn’t been matched but the series victory over Regina was a landmark and one that shows how far this franchise has come.
The Seattle Thunderbirds may have acquired their current name in 1985 but, as we’ve seen, the franchise is closing in on 50 years of history. From those early days as the Vancouver Nats, they’ve progressed from a bottom of the table side to one that is frequently challenging for the playoffs.
They’ve made that breakthrough by winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup and that success underlines the capabilities of the roster. As excitement builds for the future, we look forward to more trophies for this great T-Birds side.