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FIRST-EVER NHL WINTER CLASSIC SHUTOUT WAS 'THE PERFECT GAME' FOR THE SEATTLE KRAKEN

The Seattle Kraken had as good a long weekend as it could get, winning the 2024 NHL Winter Classic in front of home fans with big contributions from underdog players.

CAROL SCHRAM - JAN 1, 2024


SEATTLE - The rules for writing a Hollywood script are carved in stone. Even in a feel-good movie, the main characters need to overcome some sort of adversity before triumphing in the end. 


But the Seattle Kraken ushered in 2024 with an outing that right-winger Eeli Tolvanen called "the perfect game for us," on Monday, shutting out the Vegas Golden Knights 3-0 in front of 47,313 fans at T-Mobile Park, home of MLB's Seattle Mariners. 


The Kraken have never had the same 'Golden Misfits' characterization as their opponents from Sin City, who went from a group of castoffs to Stanley Cup champions in just six seasons. But the most prominent players in Seattle's 2024 NHL Winter Classic win all have underdog tales of their own to tell. Those fit a script that might have been rubber-stamped by Hollywood mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, one of the principals in the Kraken's ownership group Seattle Hockey Partners.


Now the author of the first shutout in Winter Classic history, the affable Bostonian was a seventh-round draft pick who began to garner attention as the anchor of an unlikely NCAA success story at Arizona State University. 


After three pro seasons and only nine NHL games, Daccord was snapped up by the Kraken from the Ottawa Senators in the 2021 expansion draft. 


Over the next two seasons, he got 10 NHL games with Seattle. But after taking the Coachella Valley Firebirds all the way to overtime of Game 7 of the AHL's Calder Cup final last spring, the 27-year-old got a real shot to compete for an NHL roster spot in Seattle this fall — and grabbed it. 


Let's start with Joey Daccord, the winner of the inaugural 'Cocoa Cup' as the game's MVP.


The Kraken are strong defensively but had trouble scoring early this season. Daccord was 3-4-5 when his partner Philipp Grubauer went down with a lower-body injury on Dec. 9. But the 27-year-old has risen to the occasion since assuming the starter's role — in net for eight of the nine games in the Kraken's current franchise-best point streak (7-0-2) and now up to a .919 save percentage for the year.


"It's truly the coolest thing in the world to have that support from them," said Daccord, who couldn't suppress his contagious grin when he met the media after the game. "It was a special game, and to get the support from the fans and share that moment with the fans. Just to play on such an amazing stage — the setup was awesome. I honestly felt like I was on my buddy's backyard rink."


On an already-memorable day, Daccord just missed out on a chance to go one better. With his team up by three and the Golden Knights' net empty in the waning minutes, the puckhandling whiz admitted that he had his eye on taking a rink-long crack at a goalie goal.


No wonder the fans at T-Mobile Park were chanting "Joey! Joey!" from the opening puck drop.


"It's truly the coolest thing in the world to have that support from them," said Daccord, who couldn't suppress his contagious grin when he met the media after the game. "It was a special game, and to get the support from the fans and share that moment with the fans. Just to play on such an amazing stage — the setup was awesome. I honestly felt like I was on my buddy's backyard rink."


On an already-memorable day, Daccord just missed out on a chance to go one better. With his team up by three and the Golden Knights' net empty in the waning minutes, the puckhandling whiz admitted that he had his eye on taking a rink-long crack at a goalie goal.


"I would have shot," he said. "But right before it got to me, it just bounced. I was going to try to catch it, place it and shoot it. I was definitely shooting, but it was just not the way for me."


All three of Seattle's Winter Classic goal-scorers have also battled through adversity to get to where they are today. 


Eeli Tolvanen logged his 10th of the year on a skillful tip for what proved to be the game-winner, just 5:40 into the first period. A highly regarded prospect who was drafted in the first round by the Nashville Predators in 2017 and named to the Olympic all-star team with Team Finland in 2018, Tolvanen was claimed on waivers by Seattle in December 2022 after 51 points in 135 games with the Predators. 


Exactly one year ago, Tolvanen scored in his Kraken debut — a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on New Year's Day 2023, which kicked off the team's historic eight-game winning streak. 


The 24-year-old also got the second assist on Monday's second goal, scored by Will Borgen. Tolvanen's now up to 50 points in 86 regular-season games in Seattle and added another eight in the playoffs — giving him more points with the Kraken in 12 months than he tallied during his parts of five seasons in Nashville.


As for Borgen, the right-shooting defenseman had 14 games of NHL experience on his resume when he was claimed from the Buffalo Sabres in the 2021 expansion draft at age 24.


On Monday, Borgen's rebound off a shot from Tye Kartye was his first goal of the year — and just the sixth of an NHL career that is now up to 170 games.


"There was a lot of stop, start, stop and go in his career when you look through COVID, injuries, different things like that," said Seattle coach Dave Hakstol. "He didn't have the opportunity to build that base as early in his career as maybe we hope for a young defenseman. But since that point, he's dug in. He's grown a real strong relationship with (assistant coach Jay Leach) and the two of them have done a nice job in growing his game to where he's at today. And there's still a lot of room there to go."


Borgen said that scoring in the outdoor game was "pretty cool" but didn't hesitate when choosing his favorite moment in a game experience that was chockablock with high spots.


"My favorite part was the national anthem," he said, acknowledging 14-year-old guitar whiz Nikhil Bagga and his Hendrix-inspired rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.







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