Yanni Gourde stopped by the podium on his way out of Climate Pledge Arena on Friday morning, fitted above the neck with a mustache that bears the facial hair weight of playoff hockey in the spring, a symbol of intensity and passion.
For the Seattle Kraken, there will be no playoff hockey this year – an expansion season of twists and turns will have them complete their home schedule tonight at 7pm PT (93.3 KJR / Kraken Audio Network) against the San Jose Sharks, then hit the finish line on Sunday afternoon in Winnipeg.
Still – this time of year, which puts a bow on the first chapter of the National Hockey League’s commanding presence in Seattle, has great meaning for Gourde.
“This time of the year, it’s tough to sometimes to get your own energy,” said Gourde. “We’ve been out for a while. There are two games left. But it’s the last time we’ll be in this building all year.”
“It’s very important we show up for them.”
“Them” is a reference to fans, who have poured their heart and soul into every game, period, shift, and moment that is paced to produce 41 sellouts at Climate Pledge Arena, officially putting a major league stamp on hockey’s presence in the Puget Sound.
In return for loyalty, the Kraken will be gifting fans with tangible gifts on Fan Appreciation Night, wrapping up with a postgame team awards ceremony, bearing recognition in the following categories:
The fan favorite award, three stars award, the hustle and dedication award (named after local legend Guile Fielder), and the most valuable player (named after Pete Muldoon).
Chris Driedger will start in net with his second appearance against San Jose this season on the horizon. Driedger helped sink the Sharks with a 33 save effort on Dec. 14 at SAP Center.
With Cale Fleury sent down to Charlotte, Derrick Pouliot will return to the lineup after sitting out Wednesday night’s 5-3 loss to Los Angeles. Forward Kole Lind, who was missing the last two games officially with an undisclosed ailment, will suit up in place of Daniel Sprong.
Two games left on the schedule means two games left to make a lasting impression for roster spots next season, for players like Lind. But it’s far from a “make or break” scenario.
“For a guy like Kole it’s certainly not about one night,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol. “He has a decent body of work. I want to see him building on that.”
“Decisions for the guys back in training camp - those will be made next year. But those impressions from the past few weeks as well from tonight, those last.”
San Jose will play in their second of back-to-back games tonight, wrapping up their season schedule in Seattle after losing, 5-4 in overtime on Thursday night at Edmonton despite a two-goal effort from Noah Gregor.
The Sharks, led by head coach Bob Boughner, will miss the playoffs for the third straight season and effectively had any last remaining chance derailed when earned just three wins in 17 games, starting in the middle of March.
San Jose, led by Timo Meier’s 35 goals and 76 points, has managed a strong penalty kill this season which ranks second best in the NHL at 85.1 percent.
KRAKEN PROJECTED LINEUP: APR. 29 VS. SAN JOSE