Seattle Kraken right wing Kailer Yamamoto, center, is flanked by left wing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) and left wing Tye Kartye, right, as they celebrate Yamamoto’s goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the first period of Seattle’s home opener Tuesday at Climate Pledge Arena. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Seattle Kraken right wing Kailer Yamamoto, center, is flanked by left wing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) and left wing Tye Kartye, right, as they celebrate Yamamoto’s goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the first period of Seattle’s home opener Tuesday at Climate Pledge Arena. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Spokane native Kailer Yamamoto, family rejoice in ‘fresh start’ with Kraken

The right winger, who signed with Seattle in the offseason, scored the team’s only goal in its home opener.

By Kate Shefte / The Seattle Times

It was the kind of shot Kailer Yamamoto would probably, usually pass on. First he fed linemate Tye Kartye, who hit the cross bar. Yamamoto got the puck back, but he didn’t have much of an angle to work with. As he stickhandled, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Alexandar Georgiev scooted over to block nearly all of his access.

He tucked the puck into the roof of the goal.

“I’m glad I shot that one,” he said. “That one hit a little bit different.”

He grew up sporting the vintage Seattle Metropolitans logo and never really thinking the NHL would bless his home state. But Spokane native Yamamoto found himself free to sign with the third-year Kraken in July. He scored Seattle’s only goal in its 2023-24 home opener on Tuesday night at Climate Pledge Arena.

It unfolded right in front of his parents Russ and LeAnn and girlfriend Bailey Williams.

“I’m glad he shot (it),” Russ echoed. “I know how good of a shot he has.”

A beloved mantra of hockey dads — they need to shoot more.

“After every game, he usually tells me to shoot at least four or five times. I think it’s hilarious,” Kailer, 25, laughed. “I do pass quite a bit. I think he wants me to be a little bit more selfish.

“I see things a little bit more differently than he does when I’m on the ice.”

Russ once coached his two sons. He was also their shuttle driver between Spokane and Seattle, four hours each way, every in-season weekend for three years.

“Well worth it. It all panned out,” Russ said.

They were eased onto the ice at 2 years old by Debbie Johnson, mother of Tyler Johnson, another born-and-raised, Spokane-area native who plays for the Chicago Blackhawks. Power skating coach Berkley Villard, a national silver medalist in singles figure skating in 1987, helped Kailer become the speedy forward he is today.

Kailer said his dad could be tough on him. He and older brother Keanu weren’t getting themselves up for those 6 a.m. power skating sessions.

“‘If you don’t want to be that good, then OK,’” Kailer recalled Russ saying as the sleepy boys thought better of the extra hour in bed. “I definitely needed that.”

Like Kailer’s first Kraken goal, his first ever was memorable. Four-year-old Kailer made the team late and wasn’t playing, but once he finally entered a game, he scored once, then twice — three times. A hat trick in his debut.

Nearly every step of the way until relatively recently, Keanu and Kailer teamed up. Early on they were chipping tiles and putting holes in the basement walls with pucks. Older brother overpowered little brother — “like an older brother should, he taught me a lot of lessons.”

“They fed off each other. They loved it,” LeAnn said. “We just kept helping them get to where they wanted to go. They were the drivers, for sure.”

Once the boys ran upstairs and something was clearly amiss — they were acting odd. Kailer smiled and his front two teeth were missing, courtesy of a Keanu cross-check into the cross bar.

“He’ll tell you otherwise, but he did it,” Kailer said.

Their parents sent them back down to hunt for the missing teeth. They were reinserted and are still holding on, barely. Williams said one of them got stuck in a slice of Pagliacci Pizza recently.

“It happens pretty frequently,” she added.

The brothers shared a stop in California with Los Angeles Jr. Kings 16U AAA and spent a golden era together playing for the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League for three seasons. Kailer was there from 2014-18, recording 291 points (105 goals, 186 assists), in addition to 14 points in 19 playoff contests.

“We were so fortunate and so lucky to have not one, but two boys play in our hometown,” LeAnn said. “It was wonderful. Special.”

Keanu played for McGill University and is in South Dakota with the Rapid City Rush of the ECHL. The brothers watch each other’s games and give thoughts. The feedback loop might be harder to maintain when Keanu signs overseas, which he plans to eventually, but they’ll figure it out.

Kailer was a first-round pick (2017, 22nd overall) of the Edmonton Oilers and spent parts of six seasons there. Both a homecoming and role change seem to have suited him. He was once a top-six forward in Edmonton, playing with some of the league’s brightest stars, which came with intense pressure to score. Kailer said he was happy there and isn’t one to seek out change, but the scrutiny wore on him.

“It’s just a feeling. It kind of built over time,” he said. “You see yourself in the media a lot, on social media, the blogs. I try not to read them, but it’s hard not to read them.

“When you’re not producing, you think you should be, and you get that pressure from coaches, GMs. Everyone’s kind of looking at you.”

Rumors picked up that he’d be moved, one way or another. On June 29, he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings with Klim Kostin. Detroit held on to Kostin, but waived and bought out Yamamoto’s last year on his contract, freeing him up to sign with the Kraken.

Everyone was ecstatic, including Williams, a UW grad, and her family. The plan is to catch as many games as possible.

In Kraken training camp, 5-foot-8, 153-pound Yamamoto was fighting for a spot on the fourth line, traditionally known for shutting down, banging bodies and bringing energy rather than top offensive numbers. But last season in Seattle, a dangerous fourth line was a notable asset. Daniel Sprong scored 21 goals in Yamamoto’s spot.

Yamamoto found the net regularly in the preseason and earned the nod on opening night over the more familiar Kartye. Coach Dave Hakstol cited Yamamoto’s playmaking and power-play potential. He’s played with the unit quarterbacked by Vince Dunn through the first four games.

“I think I’ve been playing some of my best hockey since I’ve been in the NHL,” Yamamoto said. “Obviously being on the fourth line it’s a little bit different, not as much playing time. But a lot less stress here. A little bit of a weight lifted off my shoulders, which I find is helping a lot.

“I think a fresh start was good for me.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Sports

Jean-Luc Baker leads advanced students through a warmup during the Seattle Skating Club 2024 Your True Step figure skating seminar on Saturday, June 15, 2024, at Olympic View Arena in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Patterson: What’s next for local Olympian Jean-Luc Baker?

The Edmonds ice dancer brought Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen to town with Your True Step.

Logan Gilbert of the Seattle Mariners throws a pitch during the second inning against the Texas Rangers at T-Mobile Park on June 16, 2024, in Seattle, Washington. (Alika Jenner / Getty Images)
Mariners week: Gilbert’s brilliance lifts Seattle to sweep

Seattle’s 8 1/2-game lead in the AL West is its largest since the 2001 season.

AquaSox week in review: Mariners’ Polanco does rehab stint

Everett wins five of six on the road against Eugene; Schreck and Garcia have big weeks.

Women’s PGA Championship offers fans chance to watch and learn

The women’s golf major tournament comes to Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish beginning Thursday.

Jackson senior and UNLV commit Yanina Sherwood is The Herald’s 2024 Softball Player of the Year. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
2024 Softball Player of the Year: Jackson’s Yanina Sherwood

With both her arm and bat, Sherwood led the Timberwolves to their second-straight state title.

Kamiak’s Synclair Mawudeku (2) pitches during a 4A softball game between Kamiak and Jackson at Kamiak High School on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. Jackson won, 9-0. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
The Herald’s 2024 All-Area softball team

Editor’s note: The Player of the Year and All-Area teams were chosen… Continue reading

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba catches the game-winning touchdown pass as Eagles cornerback James Bradberry defends in the fourth quarter on Dec. 18. (Yong Kim / Tribune News Service)
Seahawks look to fully unlock Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s potential

Seattle is expecting good things from the receiver, who was taken 20th overall in the 2023 draft.

Everett 8-year-old Ryder Romano was selected to compete in the prestigious Brick Invitational Hockey Tournament. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Walker)
Everett 8-year-old selected to prestigious hockey tournament

Ryder Romano will play at the Brick Invitational Hockey Tournament on July 1-7 in Edmonton, Alberta.

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Devon Witherspoon (21) celebrates a stop of Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) during the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Nov. 30, 2023. The Cowboys won, 41-35. (Tom Fox / Tribune News Service)
Captain of the Seahawks defense? Why it could be Witherspoon

The talented second-year cornerback brought ‘outrageous energy’ to Seattle’s minicamp.

Drew Bryson, the new Arlington boys basketball head coach, at Arlington High School on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Arlington taps alum Bryson to continue boys hoops tradition

The former Eagles star succeeds Nick Brown as Arlington’s head coach.

Why Seahawks are joining NFL trend with joint practices

Seattle will conduct practices with the Tennessee Titans prior to their preseason game.

Seattle Storm head coach Noelle Quinn on the sidelines June 15, 2023, during a game against the Las Vegas Aces in Las Vegas. (Ellen Schmidt / Las Vegas Review-Journal, file)
As WNBA exposure grows, Storm content to quietly stack wins

Amid the Caitlin Clark-fueled buzz, Seattle has won seven of its past eight.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.