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ShoWare Center draws big crowds, bigger enthusiasm
Kent resident Ed Orlosky was in his element Friday afternoon.
Sitting ringside at the ShoWare Center at Kent, munching on a hotdog, the Boeing retiree was happily awaiting the guests of honor at Kent’s newest sports venue.
The Seattle Thunderbirds.
“I follow them in the paper,” said Orlosky, of his favorite Western Hockey League team. “I was pretty excited when it was announced they were coming here.”
Orlosky and more than 6,000 people, that is. The Thunderbirds play their first game on ShoWare Ice Saturday in front of a sell-out crowd at Kent’s new, 6,100-seat arena on James Street. That game, against the Everett Silvertips, starts 7:05 p.m.
Orlosky, who played some pond hockey as a kid growing up in New Jersey, said he followed the T-Birds because he likes the kind of person that such a physical sport demands.
“They’re young kids and you’re looking for potential,” he said of players in the Western Hockey League, which serves as a proving ground for the NHL teams.
“They’re extremely hard-working and dedicated, and that’s what you look for in a person. And when they get on the ice, they’re all business.”
Orlosky got his wish shortly afterward, when the Thunderbird team, all of them helmetless and therefore identifiable, went gliding onto the ice, to the cheers of several hundred who showed up for the opening ceremony.
Their entrance onto the ice followed an ecstatic introduction by Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke.
“For the residents of Kent – this is your ShoWare Center!” Cooke shouted out to the crowd, which responded with cheers.
Orlosky heard the call. And in a way, he’s living up to it. Come Saturday, he’ll be back ringside with nine members of his family to see the T-Birds take on the Everett Silvertips.
“We’re bringing the whole family tomorrow,” Orlosky said, noting that right now he’s the only one with real hockey fever.
“They’ll probably follow it after this game,” he intoned, as his wife Karen, sitting next to him, nodded gamely.
While Saturday’s game is about the Thunderbirds, Friday’s grand-opening event was all about the ShoWare Center.
Several thousand people thronged the new arena to get a first-ever look at the center. They sat in the stands - no seat of which appeared to afford a bad look at the ice – they toured locker rooms, they tried the concessions, and they imbibed in free appetizers and plenty of conversation with players, Kent City Council members (decked out in T-Birds jerseys), and team managers. They also crowded the souvenir shop to check out jerseys and other paraphernalia.
The excitement of the afternoon was especially palpable for the Brown family of Kent. They’re a billet family for T-Bird player Brenden Silvester.
Sitting in the stands before the opening ceremony, dad Roger Brown said the experience has been a great one for his family, including son Blake, 13, and wife Sharon.
Silvester is a part of their family, Roger said.
“He’s awesome and I feel like he’s one of mine,” Roger explained.
And it’s very cool that his son now gets a ride to school from Silvester, who goes to school himself at Kent-Meridian High School.
“He’s very respectful,” Sharon added.
The family also has another member, thanks to Silvester.
His girlfriend Sarah Patterson, 17, who comes to visit from Vancouver, where she and Silvester are from.
She was seated with the family Friday to watch Silvester take the ice.
“I’m here for another three days, “ Patterson said, so that she can see Sylvester compete.
They’ve been together two years, and Patterson’s made the adjustment of a long-distance relationship, but it’s not easy, living in different cities, let alone countries.
“It’s hard, but it’s worth it,” she said.
And is she really a major hockey fan, considering it’s a Canadian birthright?
“Everyone likes hockey,” Patterson said with a grin about her countrymen. “But after dating a hockey player, I kind of got into it.”
While many people were just enjoying the general atmosphere of the ShoWare Center, there were some visitors for whom the event was especially poignant.
Kent City Councilwoman Deborah Ranniger was positively beaming, as she walked through the throngs of visitors.
For her, as well as the rest of the Council, the new arena was the coda to a somewhat risk-filled couple of years bringing the concept to fruition. It was a journey that involved the state Legislature, Gov. Christine Gregoire’s office, and, ultimately, the Council’s trust that the project would come in on time and within budget.
And it did.
“This is going to be a lifesaver for us,” Ranniger said, watching the crowds walking by, in shirts emblazoned with T-Bird logos. Considering the sold-out crowd for the first game, and future activities the center is projected to attract, Kent should be getting a major economic boost from the facility, she said.
“I think this center is going pull us through some tough times,” Ranniger said.
While the T-Birds and the Kent Council were part of the opening ceremony, the ShoWare Center drew some top-tier local entertainment throughout the night.
Kent saxophonist Darren Motamedy, as well as dance teams and drama students from Kent-area high schools provided entertainment throughout the.
Kentridge and Kent-Meridian high school students performed scenes from their joint production of “Fame.” Kentlake High students acted out scenes from their production of “Annie Get Your Gun.”
A member of the Harlem Globetrotters promotion team also conducted a basketball clinic on another section of the floor. The Globetrotters perform Feb. 18 at the arena.