A Brief History of Ice Skating in Seattle

Pro hockey, silver medals, and a frozen over Green Lake.

The Seattle Metropolitans. Wikipedia Commons

In 1984, dressed in an eggshell-white leotard with sparkly teal highlights, Edmonds native Rosalynn Sumners, then only 20, rouge-cheeked and surprisingly poised, twirled through the air of a Sarajevo ice rink. Known for both her creativity and strength on the ice, Sumners, who’d won multiple national and international championships as a figure skater, earned an Olympic silver medal that day.

It was a high-water mark for both Sumners (who was inducted in the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame later in 2001) and her home region, which—perhaps surprisingly—has a rich history of skating despite being much better known for hiking boots, skis, and incessant falling rain.

It’s hard to tell exactly when ice skating came to Seattle, but one of the earliest major developments came 100 years ago: In 1916, it’s estimated, indoor ice-skating for the public began with the opening of the Metropolitan Ice Rink. The rink is now but a memory; the building that housed it, near where the Four Seasons now sits downtown, having since been remodeled.

While it’s remembered that Feb. 2, 1916 saw the biggest one-day snowfall in Seattle on record, Seattle-area resident Dorothea Nordstrand recalled in a 1993 Seattle Times piece that in the winter of 1930, Green Lake froze over—the only time it did in her life—making way for hundreds of skaters and their hot-chocolate stands.

A year later, some 53 years before Sumners’ Olympic successes, the Seattle Skating Club was established. It’s called many locales home—including the Civic Ice Arena, which was featured prominently at the Seattle World’s Fair—but the club now operates from the Olympicview Arena in Mountlake Terrace and the Lynnwood Ice Center. The SSC has helped dozens of skaters earn accolades on the ice, from Sumners to current Olympic hopeful ice dancer Jean-Luc Baker. He and his partner Kaitlin Hawayek won gold at the 2014 World Junior championships, the two maneuvering like feathers as they glided over the ice.

That same year, at the most recent Winter Olympics, Mount Vernon-born T.J. Oshie suited up at forward for the U.S. men’s national hockey team, which finished fourth. Oshie, who currently plays for the NHL’s Washington Capitals, is a product of the long though somewhat sordid history of hockey–both professional and amateur–in greater Seattle.

In 1917, just a year after establishing its first indoor rink, Seattle became the first U.S. city to bring home professional hockey’s championship trophy, the Stanley Cup, when the Seattle Metropolitans defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3 to 1. But the Metropolitans disbanded in 1924, despite several more high-place finishes.

The memory of the team, however, lives on. In 2015, the Seattle Thunderbirds—the minor-league hockey club founded in 1985 as the Seattle Breakers and now operating out of Kent—held a tribute night to celebrate the Metropolitans’ inception and championship (and won that night). But the Thunderbirds, runners-up in the 2015 league finals, isn’t the only hockey team within a puck’s throw of the Space Needle. Less than an hour to the north is the home of their rivals in the U.S. Division of the Western Hockey League: the Everett Silvertips, a perennial powerhouse that’s finished in the finals or semifinals in five of the 12 years since its founding in 2003.

And while the region maintains a fond relationship with the Thunderbirds and Silvertips, both of which have produced many NHL players, some local elites, including big-time hedge-fund managers, have begun to make a push for a new, glitzy NHL team. Seattle-raised businessman Chris Hansen has fervently been working to bring a team to the ice of the Emerald City. The team, Hansen hopes, would play out of a proposed SoDo arena (along with a rejuvenated Supersonics). So far, though, Hansen has been unsuccessful, much to the chagrin of local sports fans hoping to build on the success of the Sounders and Seahawks.

But hockey lovers, including Hansen, maintain hope. To ease the pain, they can visit one of the more than half a dozen ice rinks in town, from Shoreline’s Highland Ice Arena to the super-popular Winterfest Ice Rink in Seattle Center. It’s in places like these where folks of all ages and experience levels can come together to sharpen both skate and skill; where students can make-believe that they’re the next Rosalynn Sumners, spinning to history on the tip of a single skate. Or that they’re the next T.J. Oshie, speeding up ice on a fast break toward the game winner. ■


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