Totems and the NHL

The mid-1970's saw the sports scene in Seattle grow by major leaps and bounds. The University of Washington signed a new football coach, Don James, who would lead the Huskies to great success; professional soccer came to Seattle in 1974 with the arrival of the NASL Sounders; the NBA SuperSonics signed 7 foot 2 inch Tom Burleson for a then shocking $1.5 million; the National Football League awarded an expansion franchise to Seattle for 1976; Construction was underway for a multi-purpose domed stadium; and Major League Baseball was making plans to give Seattle another chance after the ill-fated Pilots. But what many have largely forgotten is that Seattle was also awarded a National Hockey League franchise.

On June 12, 1974 the NHL awarded Seattle an expansion franchise to a group of investors headed by Seattle Totems' president, Vince Abbey. Abbey, a Seattle lawyer and lifelong hockey enthusiast who played hockey in Seattle's City League in the early 1940's, was a graduate of the UW (1947) and obtained a master's degree in law from Georgetown University.

A stockholder of the Totems since their inception, Abbey worked hard to make the Totems a successful franchise in Seattle. He even fought off bids from Los Angeles Kings' owner, Jack Kent Cooke, to buy the team . The Totems' majority stockholders were going to sell the club to Cooke; however, Abbey's minority group had the right of first refusal on this Totems' stock. Abbey's group purchased these shares and became the majority group. Shortly after Abbey's acquisition, the Totems achieved great success winning two consecutive championships and maintaining a winning record throughout most of the 1960's. But with all successful teams there is always a lean period and the Totems were no exception. The 1970's proved to be a low point for the Totes on the ice and at the gate as well. In 1971, the Totems were taken over by the WHL due to financial troubles. Abbey persuaded Coleman Hall, a friend and an investor in the Vancouver Canucks NHL team, to purchase the Totems and use them as a farm club with the stipulation that Abbey could buy the team back if Seattle were to get a NHL franchise. Hall agreed and the Totems were rescued once again.

Seattle, along with Denver, were to start in the 1976-77 season. Abbey and his group of investors, which included amongst others Nick Carras, Dr. Eldred Barnes and Irving Clark Jr., received a lot of support for their franchise bid from their neighbors up north in Vancouver, B.C. The Vancouver Canucks' brass - people such as Coley Hall, Bill Hughes and Frank Griffiths - were big supporters towards NHL expansion in Seattle as it would reignite the rivalry that had existed for years between the two cities in the Western League.

With the announcement of this NHL expansion franchise, the Seattle Center Coliseum immediately began making preparations for the NHL. They removed the old chain-linked style fence and replaced it with plexiglas. The old scoreboard was taken down and a newer, larger scoreboard was put in its' place. Plans were made to install more seats, so that the capacity of the Coliseum would grow from 12,300 to 14,500. And eventually, with renovations, the Coliseum would achieve the NHL requirement of 15,000 seats.


Excerpt from an advertisement promoting season tickets for Totems
NHL hockey

Meanwhile at Totems' headquarters, Abbey and company were busy putting together the financing to present the league at the end of the year along with a required $185,000 down payment for the $6,000,000 expansion franchise. Seattle fans, excited by the prospect of a NHL team, did their own financing as well: "The public has been just great with our fans getting behind us even though we still are two years away. Season tickets are way ahead of what we expected" said Abbey.

Everything, it seemed, was coming together for Abbey and his dream of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Seattle; however, something went wrong along the way.


Totems and the NHL Part II...

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