Seattle Thunderbirds forward Lucas Ciona is a great example of a player who is willing to do whatever it takes to win. The 6-foot-3, 223-pound winger plays a physical style of hockey and has mastered the art of getting under his opponents’ skin to throw them off their game. He is a key reason why Seattle has been one of the top teams in the Western Hockey League (WHL) over the past two seasons and is looking like a draft-day steal by the Calgary Flames.
Rewarded For Hard Work
The Flames drafted Ciona in the sixth round of the 2021 NHL Draft after he recorded 13 points in 23 games that season. While his point totals did not blow people away during his draft year, his willingness to play a physical brand of hockey is what helped push the Flames to draft him. Two years later, he is one of three players they have signed from that draft class and had one of the best showings by a prospect at this year’s training camp. Despite growing up cheering for their rivals, he could not be more excited to be a Flame as he showed that hard work does pay off in the long run.
“It was a little weird” said Ciona, “I am an Edmontonian, so I grew up an Oilers fan. It was the best feeling in the world to celebrate that with my family and have the hard work pay off. It was such a great feeling and another opportunity to get better.”
This season, the Thunderbirds also named Ciona as captain of the team. He is the second-longest serving player on the team, with ties back to the 2018-19 season and was part of the leadership group last season, wearing an “A” for Seattle. Looking back, it was a special moment for him and one that, despite the pressures attached to it, was a challenge he was ready to take on.
“Best feeling in the world. This is such a great group of guys. To have the privilege and honour to wear the “C” and lead these guys, it’s a great feeling, but I can’t do it without these guys. Everyone on this team is a leader and such good guys. It’s a huge honour.”
Ciona finished the 2022-23 season posting career highs in goals, assists, and points. His 75 points were the second most on the team during the regular season, while he was just one of two players to surpass the 25-goal and 40-assist mark on the Thunderbirds. Overall, the season was a massive success on multiple fronts and another example of how hard work pays off as Seattle won their first U.S. Division title in seven years and fourth since 2001-02.
Fan Base In Seattle
Ciona has played close to 250 games in the WHL, and one thing that sticks out is how passionate Thunderbird fans are. Not only do they cheer Seattle on at the accesso ShoWare Center, but they make a point of traveling around the league to show their support. These are just some of the reasons why the captain feels they are the best fans not just in the United States but across the entire WHL.
“I think we have the best fans in the league, and we don’t just say that to say it. Everyone saw our building in the finals. The fans in our building are the best. They are always so loud, and they love hockey just as much as the Canadians do. They are amazing.”
While Seattle as a city has always had a passionate group of hockey fans, the Seattle Kraken’s recent playoff run has seemingly elevated that level of fandom. The Kraken’s playoff run also had a positive effect on the Thunderbirds as more people started attending the games and cheering on the team. In fact, during the playoffs, Seattle never dipped below the 4,000 mark, even though some games would coincide with the NHL playoffs happening 30 minutes down the road. It is something Ciona and his teammates not only noticed but appreciated as they went on their run to the Memorial Cup.
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“Hockey is becoming such a huge thing there; it’s become a hockey city. We got to go to one of the playoff games against Colorado, where they won in overtime, and that building was electric. The city was so amazing. Everyone was cheering for hockey, and not just the Kraken; it was us too. It is just so cool.”
Whether it was for the Kraken or Thunderbirds, the fans in Seattle have created one of the best hockey atmospheres in North America. They want to see their teams succeed and are not afraid to show just how passionate they are, whether that be at the games or on social media. If there were any doubts surrounding how successful hockey would be in the Seattle market, it is safe to say this past year has silenced the doubters as fans continue to show why they are some of the best in the NHL and WHL.
Memorial Cup Experience
For just the third time in their history, the Thunderbirds made the Memorial Cup after defeating the Winnipeg ICE in the WHL Final. Through the round-robin, they finished with a 2-1 record, with Ciona scoring the team’s first goal in the tournament. For him, it was a moment he wouldn’t soon forget.
“Unreal feeling. This is the biggest stage for junior hockey, so to put one in the back of the net was such a great feeling. It just keeps getting better from there.”
The tournament is being hosted by the Kamloops Blazers this year, which is a team Seattle has built a rivalry with over the past two years. In each of the last two playoffs, the Thunderbirds have eliminated the Blazers and to add insult to injury, ended both series with wins in Kamloops. This is something that Blazers fans clearly have not gotten over, as regardless of the opponent at this year’s Memorial Cup, they cheer for whoever Seattle is facing and are attempting to make the Sandman Center as hostile of an environment as possible.
“We are pretty used to it at this point. I think we have played here 12 times throughout the past two years, so you get used to the crowd and build energy off of it even though they are cheering for the other team. Anytime they go quiet, you know you are doing something right. We are pretty used to it and love that.”
Despite the fans’ best efforts, the Thunderbirds were able to take care of business against the Blazers during the round-robin of the Memorial Cup, once again beating Kamloops in front of their hometown fans. Just like he did during their first game of the tournament, Ciona scored the Thunderbirds’ first goal in what would turn out to be a 6-1 victory. Based on their performances during the Memorial Cup, it is clear he and his teammates don’t mind being the villains as they look to win their first championship in franchise history.
Ciona Developing Into A Special Player
Playing in what most likely will be his final Canadian Hockey League (CHL) games, Ciona has shown just how valuable he can be to not only the Thunderbirds but the Flames in the future. He is a player that isn’t afraid to stand up for his teammates and can deliver not just big hits but big goals as well. Fans in Calgary should be excited if he continues to develop the way he has; it could be sooner rather than later until they see him in a Flames jersey regularly.