Thunderbirds will fly south this summer

The Seattle Thunderbirds will start flying the coop for Kent this week.

Ian Henry

Kent open house is Saturday

The Seattle Thunderbirds will start flying the coop for Kent this week.

The minor-league hockey team won’t compete in its new home – the Kent Events Center – until the facility is completed in January 2009. But as many as a dozen front-office staff members are expected to move this week to a temporary office in downtown Kent, from their current digs in Kirkland.

“We want to be in Kent as soon as possible to jump feet-first into the community,” said Ian Henry, director of public relations for the Thunderbirds, who is part of that initial move. “We want to get to know the people and the businesses and be a part of the community.”

When the events center is completed, it will include permanent office space for Thunderbirds staff.

The Thunderbirds will host an open house starting 10 a.m. Saturday at their temporary Kent office, at 109 Second Ave. S., just north of West Meeker Street. The open house is designed to attract volunteers to help with the Street Team promotions program as well as to find Kent families who want to house players during the 2008-2009 season.

Street Team members promote the Thunderbirds at events and festivals throughout the summer, including the Kent Cornucopia Days July 11-13. The T-Birds will put a special emphasis this year on events in the South King County area, in an effort to draw more fans to their 6,025-seat arena in Kent.

The team also is seeking out families to host anywhere from one to three T-Bird players. The families will be paid for hosting the players.

“It’s a little bit like hosting an exchange student,” Henry said, of the high-school-aged players for the team. “We would like for the players to have their own bedroom and bathroom.”

As many as 25 players, ages 16 to 20, will need to stay with host families. Players have lived with families in Kirkland in the past, but the Thunderbirds will start practicing in August at the Kent Valley Ice Centre, rather than their previous practice site at Kingsgate Ice Arena in Kirkland.

Starting in the fall, the T-Bird players who are high-school aged will attend Kent-Meridian High School during the hockey season.

Team officials will provide more information at the open house about hosting players and the Street Team program. People also can learn more by logging on to: www.seattlethunderbirds.com.

The Thunderbirds will be the anchor tenant of the $78.6 million events center, which is located at West James Street and Fifth Avenue North. The team currently plays at KeyArena in Seattle. Kent now has a 30-year lease with the Thunderbirds.

“We’re all excited about how well the building is moving along,” Henry said.

The Thunderbirds are members of the Western Hockey League. The regular season starts in late September and runs through mid-March. The team will play about 40 games next year at the events center.

Contact Steve Hunter at 253-872-6600, ext. 5052 or shunter@reporternewspapers.com.

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