Over the past couple of months, we’ve looked at some of the truly great Seattle Thunderbirds throughout the franchise’s history. From tough guys, goal scorers, shut down d-men, character players, and imports, Seattle has certainly produced some all-time greats, but today, we begin our look at some of the very best who have ever donned a Thunderbirds sweater. Our top three players span three eras of some of the most prosperous times in the franchise’s long history. Coming in at #3, and a player whose number 12 many fans feel should hang from the rafters of the Accesso ShoWare Center at some point, is Patrick Marleau.
Marleau, a native of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, began his junior hockey career playing two incredible season with the Swift Current Legionnaires of the SMHL, where he absolutely dominated the league. Over just 84 games, Marleau scored a staggering 219 points (102G, 117A). The Seattle Thunderbirds took notice, and at the 1994 WHL Bantam Draft, he was selected sixth overall in the first round. Thunderbirds fans wouldn’t have to wait long to see the new star player display his talent at Key Arena.
Marleau entered the Western Hockey League in 1995-1996, and his talent was undeniable from the beginning. Even as a rookie, Marleau’s natural skill was head and shoulders above the rest of the team. His offensive acumen was the catalyst to Seattle making the playoffs. Patrick appeared in all 72 regular season games and produced at a point-per-game pace, scoring 32 goals and 42 assists for 74 points. The T-birds secured the second to last playoff spot and had a spirited series with the defending Memorial Cup Champion Kamloops Blazers, featuring future NHL legend Jarome Iginla. Despite the series ending in five games, in three of the losses, Seattle pushed the Blazers to overtime. Marleau, in those five games, scored three goals and added four assists for seven points. Seattle had their star, and expectations for the young Marleau and the Tbirds were high headed into the 1996-1997 season.
Marleau’s second and final season with the Thunderbirds was one many fans look back on fondly, despite how the season ended. Patrick was named the captain of the team, and he more than picked up where he left off the previous season, as he established himself as one of the most dominant players, not only in the Dub, but in the entire CHL. Marleau played in 71 games in the campaign, improving to 51 goals and 74 assists for 125 points. There were few nights in which Patrick was not the best player on the ice. His 125 points were good for third in the league in points amongst all players. Seattle finished second in the western conference behind Portland. The team received a bit of redemption against the Blazers in the opening round of the playoffs, winning the series in five games and was awarded a bye in the next round. In the Western Conference Final, Seattle beat the Prince George Cougars four games to two, securing their first berth to the WHL Championship series in franchise history. Unfortunately, Seattle was swept by the eventual champions, the Lethbridge Hurricanes. During this historic run in the postseason, Marleau recorded 23 points (7G, 16A) in 15 games. Marleau was second in voting for the “Four Broncos Memorial Trophy” for most valuable player in the WHL and was a CHL first team all-star. Next for Patrick was the NHL Entry Draft.
Pittsburgh played host to the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, which was highlighted by the one-two punch of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Marleau was selected second overall by the San Jose Sharks, who were in desperate need of a new face of the franchise. To this day, I often ask myself what the 1998 season could have looked like for Seattle had Marleau had been returned to Seattle. Could we be talking about Seattle’s first WHL championship and perhaps Memorial Cup championship? One can only wonder. Alas, Patrick proved enough to the Sharks that he was not returned, and Seattle would have to wait 20 years for their next true star and a taste at WHL glory.
Marleau has gone on to a near hall of fame career in the NHL, spending 18 years with the Sharks and two with the Maple Leafs. He has played over 1,600 career games, scoring 551 goals and 615 assists for 1,166 points. Beyond a successful NHL career, Patrick has represented his home country on numerous occasions, winning Olympic gold twice and a World Championship gold twice and silver once.
Despite only playing two seasons in Seattle, Patrick Marleau’s name is mentioned among the best the franchise has ever had. Marleau’s inclusion on this list was never in question. The only thing that I struggled with was just how high on the list he would land.