The author and her son at the new Kraken Community Iceplex in Seattle. Credit: Natasha Dillinger
Update Sept. 22, 2021:
Bobby the seal has arrived! My family and I headed back to the Iceplex for a weekend skate session. There are now about a dozen seal-shaped skate aids available to rent for $5 each, on a first come, first served basis. They're stored under the stairs and aren't well-advertised, perhaps because most experts don't recommend them if you're earnestly trying to teach skating skills. My kids aren't headed to the Olympics any time soon, so we chose to rent one just for fun.
Word has gotten out about this fun community spot, and our Sunday afternoon public skate session was busier than our first time, but still comfortable. My 2-year-old chose to ride on the seal's back while my 5-year-old pushed him around. She did well steering around other families and having the extra stability helped us move away from the wall and avoid traffic jams.
Original article Sept. 13, 2021:
All hands on deck! The Kraken Community Iceplex, the shiny new training space for Seattle’s long-awaited NHL team, opened to an eager public this past September. My family lives right up the hill from the 167,000-square-foot facility, and we were excited to score a public skating slot during the festivities on opening weekend.
Break in those skates
Renovations to the Northgate Mall site cost $80 million — and it shows. A modern design greeted us on arrival, warm wooden benches proved much more comfortable than the standard aluminum variety, and multiple rinks are available to host team and community practices as well as public skating.
The crowd was lively (and well-masked!) as we walked into the lobby. Everyone’s excitement was palpable, from the little kids playing with their foam hockey sticks purchased at the team store to the players on a girls’ hockey team arriving for practice with their giant bags of gear.
Getting on the ice
We picked up our rental skates (four of some 700 hockey-style pairs) and headed for Rink 1, where the evening’s public skating session was about to begin. The kids’ skates were so new that we dumped out the silica gel packets and threaded the laces for the first time. Observers had tons of bleacher space in which to spread out, but we did have to get a little close to other families on the bottom level to sit and put on our skates.
Once on the ice, my 5-year-old grabbed her dad’s hand, and they were off, making their way along the wall. This was only her second time on skates, but she gradually picked up the seesaw movements needed to move on her own. Experienced skaters politely stuck to the middle of the rink, allowing newbies plenty of space near the wall to fall and try again.
My 2-year-old, along with many of the other kids on the ice, had a tougher time with independence. Skate aids — devices that can be ridden or pushed to keep young kids upright on their skates — weren’t yet available during our visit. (About a dozen seal-shaped skate aids are now available to rent for $5 each, on a first come, first served basis.) So, my son had to hold my hands pretty tightly to remain standing. We eventually got into a groove and glided together around the rink, stopping occasionally to watch the more experienced figure skaters practice their spins.
Learn from my mistake and check out tips for helping kids learn to ice skate. In our excitement about trying a new sport and assuming skate aids would be available, I forgot to research in advance and missed an opportunity to start good independent skating habits — such as stomping like a dinosaur.
My son adored the first 30 minutes of skating, jumping and shaking his hips to the pop music blaring over the speakers, but after he fell hard on his hands, he was done. A kind rink employee helped clear a path through the other wall-clinging kids so we could exit the ice.
Have some off-ice fun and watch the pros
With our street shoes back on, we headed out to the lobby to explore more of the facility. During the opening weekend, a temporary family fun zone offered Kraken-themed games. Kids played cornhole and miniature floor hockey in this area, practicing shooting goals. This fun zone was set up on removable flooring that covered one of the ice rinks, giving the facility flexibility in its offerings. We’ll be watching for more off-ice kid-friendly fun.
My daughter joined us just in time to spot a trio of tween girls who we had seen demonstrating their graceful spirals out on the ice. It felt a bit like a local celebrity sighting! We found out they started their skating careers right around my daughter’s age, which prompted a family discussion about the years of practice it takes to nail a perfect sit spin.
We headed upstairs to ogle the merchandise at the team store. A large bar-style seating area provided a perfect spot for us to observe more hardworking young women: A girls’ hockey team was practicing on the rink just below us. We joined a couple of other families with young children to watch at a distance as the athletes dropped quickly to the ice to block passes, seemingly unencumbered by the mountain of pads strapped to their bodies.
A large bar-style seating area provided a perfect spot for us to observe more hard-working young women — a girls’ hockey team was practicing on the rink just below us. We joined a couple of other young families at a distance to watch the athletes drop quickly to the ice to block passes, seemingly not encumbered by the mountain of pads strapped to their bodies.
I loved that my children could see a wide range of experience levels enjoying the iceplex, from rookies like us, gingerly stepping onto the ice, to confident older kids who have persevered to master their ice sports.
Launching a new team has given Kraken leadership a unique opportunity to set a precedent of intentional community inclusion. They reached out to engage with local Coast Salish Tribes and acknowledged the team’s presence on Native homelands. An art piece by Andrea Wilbur-Sigo, a master carver of the Squaxin Island Tribe, will welcome iceplex visitors. As part of the community store on-site, Starbucks commissioned Paige Pettibon, a Salish, Black and white artist, to create stunning murals highlighting the connection to the sea and its native stewards.
Recognizing the need to focus on multifaceted diversity — including racial, gender and disability — the team has hired an intersectionality consultant and formed committees to help envision better ways of making hockey culture more inclusive. Part of this commitment includes a wheelchair-accessible rink set up for sled hockey.
Perhaps most important to families, the iceplex is designed to bring ice-skating and hockey opportunities to Seattle-area youths. Kids as young as 3 can sign up for the Kraken Skating Academy’s seven-week Learn to Skate program. Lessons give kids foundational skating skills for hockey or figure skating, or just skating for fun. Adults can take lessons, too.
Learn to Play programs teach hockey skills to kids and adults. There are also more advanced figure-skating training opportunities available.
As part of the Kraken’s commitment to reducing barriers to participation, financial assistance for youth programs is available via the team’s One Roof Foundation (onerooffoundation.org). Families that are curious about whether hockey is right for them can also watch for periodic Try Hockey for Free events.
The most surprising skating fan was my husband, who went back on the ice by himself for a bit after the rest of us had finished. With an easily accessible location (the new Link light rail Northgate station opened in October), we are all looking forward to popping over for more family skate sessions and maybe even a kid-free date night!
If you go…
Find it: The Kraken Community Iceplex is located at 10601 Fifth Ave. N.E. in Seattle’s Northgate area. Future visitors will get to stroll around the updated Northgate Mall once renovations are complete.
Hours: Times vary, but public skating sessions are generally available on weekday mornings, Friday evenings and throughout the day on weekends. Time slots are 90 minutes long. Check the schedule and make a reservation (recommended, but not required) through an online platform called Dash on the iceplex website.
Cost: $15 per session, with 10-punch passes available for a discount. Kids younger than 4 skate for free and do not require a reservation. Skate and skate-aid rentals each cost $5. A series of ice skating or hockey lessons starts in the $200 range.
Dress: For a public skating session, I recommend wearing a long-sleeved shirt or sweater, pants with durable knees and mittens. Consider packing an extra layer or two in case zipping across the ice doesn’t get your blood pumping.
Parking: Parking is currently free, and vehicles can enter the designated parking area at 106th Street. Skaters can also ride public transit to the rinks (soundtransit.org).
Facilities: Gender-specific restrooms are available in addition to a gender-neutral family option (although changing tables are in the multi-stall restrooms). Filling stations for reusable water bottles- are available in the hallway.
Parties: Birthday party sessions cost $400 for as many as 10 kids and include pizza, soft drinks and a skate session.
Hockey is for everyone: Find a list of local organizations working to make hockey a more inclusive sport at nhl.com/kraken.
A more affordable skating option: Skating at the new Kraken Iceplex can cost $80 for a family of four, including the cost of skate rentals. Up the road at the Highland Ice Arena, families can book a 90-minute public skate session, including skates, for about $33. Highland is not as fancy as the Kraken facility, but it’s worth knowing about for families on a budget.
Nearby the iceplex: A new Starbucks community store and the 32 Bar & Grill (named for the 32,000 advance season-ticket reservations and the freezing point of ice) opens this fall. In the nearby Thornton Place shopping center, my family and I love getting coffee at the Jewel Box Cafe or picking up steaming ramen from Kizuki (perfect after a session on the ice). The Watershed Pub & Kitchen (watershedpub.com) features an outdoor patio and plenty of vegetarian options in addition to standard comfort foods.