In all his years at the helm of the Seattle Thunderbirds, Russ Farwell still firmly believes Patrick Marleau never got the fanfare he deserved when he suited up for the T-Birds from 1995-1997.
But on Friday night, Nov. 3 at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent, Marleau got a hero’s welcome as the organization raised his No. 12 to the rafters.
It was an emotional moment for the longtime San Jose Sharks captain as he took to the ice with his family and more than a dozen of his former teammates to a standing ovation from a packed house.
“I want to start off by thanking Dan and Lindsey Leckelt and the Seattle Thunderbirds for bestowing this honor upon me and retiring my jersey,” Marleau, 44, said to 5,440 fans at the 6,200-seat arena. “To have my name and jersey I wore while playing here in the rafters is something I don’t take for granted. To be able to share this moment with my family, my friends, and quite a few of the boys I shared the ice with so many years ago is even more special. Thank you, guys, for being here.
“Thank you to Russ Farwell and Don Nachbaur – I truly appreciate all of the guidance you gave me, and life lessons, helping me become the best player I could be.”
Long before the product of Aneroid, Saskatchewan, piled up two Olympic gold medals and shattered Gordie Howe’s longstanding record with his 1,779 games played, Farwell remembers his first impression of being stunned by the sheer strength of the quiet farm boy.
“We had a spring camp at the University of Calgary and we went in and did some fitness testing,” Farwell, who served as Seattle’s general manager at the time, recalled. “The Calgary Flames had just had their development camp the week before. Pat got up for his turn on the leg press and he started pressing these weights and finally the guy just stopped him and said, ‘Well, that’s enough. That’s the best anyone at the Flames camp had done. And he was 16 years old.”
Marleau dazzled in his rookie campaign, where he tallied 32 goals and 42 assists.
He would be named captain his sophomore year and led the Thunderbirds to a second-place finish in the Western Conference of the Western Hockey League (WHL) in the regular season, thanks in part to his blistering 51 goals and 74 assists.
“To score 51 goals at 17-years-old and lead our team in scoring at that age was unheard of,” Farwell said.
But as his star power started to grow in Washington state, fans wouldn’t get another chance to cheer him on – at least, at the WHL level. Marleau was selected second overall by the Sharks in the 1997 NHL Draft, and never looked back.
“I first realized he wouldn’t be back as an 18 year old when he called after one of the first (San Jose Sharks) exhibition games,” Farwell said. “He said to me, ‘Geez, I was really surprised’. And most times like that, a kid says how strong they are, how fast it was. Pat says, ‘I was really surprised how much time I had.’ And that was striking. I realized that he had already made the adjustment there and he was he was getting comfortable. Sure enough, he never came back.
“They didn’t give him up for the World Juniors either, so it wasn’t like they were carrying him. They felt they needed him.”
Marleau also had his number retired by the San Jose Sharks in February 2023, following 23 seasons in the NHL with stops in San Jose, Toronto and Pittsburgh. Marleau never played in Kent, as the Thunderbirds moved to the ShoWare Center in 2009 from Seattle.
“I was only 15, turning 16 when I came here [to Seattle], anxious to get started on what I hoped would be my dreams coming true,” Marleau said. “Seattle will always be a special place for me. It has been so fun spending the past couple days reminiscing. Seattle was the first place I got to play in front of a big group of fans on a regular basis and playing in front of all of you was a big thrill. Thank you for always supporting me and the team.
“I’m a man in my mid-40s now, but to this day, some of the very best friends I have are guys I met and played with here. To the young kids playing here now – these days are the best. Enjoy the bus rides, the practices, the games, and everything in between. Hockey has provided me with a life that has exceeded my wildest dreams and it can do the same for you.”
• Cami Kepke is the WHL manager of communications and content