Mitch Holmberg’s final season with the Spokane Chiefs has been a good one. We wrote about the 20-year-old back in February:
Defensive play was once a weakness for Holmberg, a right wing who isn't all that big (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) or physical (less than 100 career penalty minutes). He's never been drafted by a National Hockey League team, even after last season, when he totaled 39 goals and 80 points in 66 games.
"I thought I had a good year," Holmberg says. "I think it's hard whenever you don't get drafted ... [but] it's kind of a blessing in disguise that I wasn't. It always pushes you harder if you can prove someone wrong in the long run."
Since then, he’s been named the Chiefs’ Player of the Year and Most Sportsmanlike Player (for the third year in a row), broke the Chiefs’ record for career goals and earned the Bob Clarke trophy for leading the Western Hockey League in regular-season scoring.
Holmberg’s franchise record-breaking goal — his 62nd of the season — came last Friday, as Spokane beat the Tri-City Americans, 4-3, in front of a sold-out crowd at the Spokane Arena. He broke the record of 146 held by Pat Falloon, who was inducted into the Chiefs hall of fame this past fall.
The Chiefs are taking on the Victoria Royals for their first round Western Hockey League playoff series beginning this Saturday, March 22, with home games on March 26, 27 and 31.
Read the previous feature about Holmberg here.
Zag Watch has been on hiatus for a bit, and for that, we extend sincere apologies. But Zag Watch was on Seahawk Watch for a good stretch and has been celebrating the Super Bowl championship ever since. Then we got into reruns of Bay Watch and things really got off the rails. But we're back, just in time for the Zags to head down the stretch of their WCC regular season.
Tonight, Gonzaga heads into the Marriott Center, a cavernous dome in the middle of Provo, Utah, where 21,000 people hopped up on caffeine-free Diet Coke will dress in matching shirts and scream wholeheartedly in the hopes that doing so will force the Zags to lose. Yup, the Zags are heading back to BYU, their first trip to Provo since that slugfest a year ago that ultimately ended with Gonzaga locking up a No. 1 national ranking.
Now, I'm not a betting man, but it was tough not to notice that the shadowy figures who decide the betting line on college basketball games have BYU as a three point favorite tonight. Sure, the Cougars are at home, where they've won all their games except for a squeaker to then 21-ranked Iowa State back in November, but the Zags already soundly defeated BYU last month in the Kennel thanks to some hot shooting from Kevin Pangos (and everyone else that night). And, there's the little detail that BYU has has some oddly bad losses this season, including a shellacking at the hands of Loyola Marymount (the last-place team in the WCC).
I'm not saying that Few's boys are going to run away with this by any means — a squad that shoots like BYU (see more on their guard Tyler Haws below) and is capable of a break-neck pace can get after you in a hurry — it just seems odd to be thinking of them as underdogs going into this. But perhaps the oddsmakers were figuring that BYU will come out on fire, considering that if they don't win this, they will miss out on an NCAA tournament bid for the second consecutive year.
One thing the Zags will have on their side is the game time. It's set for an 8 pm tipoff (ESPN2) which is 9 pm in the Mountain Time Zone. The late start might make for a smaller crowd...and maybe some sleepy Cougars.
SNAGGING THE WCC CROWN
Tonight, Gonzaga has a chance to secure its second straight outright WCC regular season conference championship. They are guaranteed at least a share of the title already, thanks to BYU, St. Mary's and San Francisco (all with five losses) sitting in what's essentially a three-way tie for second place. But the Zags would have to lose all of their remaining games for there to be a sharing scenario.
KEEP AN EYE ON HAWS
No, you're probably not a BYU fan, but if you don't get at least a moderate kick out of watching the Cougars' Tyler Haws play, you need basketball fan lessons. He is as deadly an offense weapon as exists in the college game today, complete with the ability to, like he did in a 3OT loss to Portland, drop in 48 points if you let him. Haws is currently the nation's fourth leading scorer with 24.1 points per game. Look for Gonzaga's defensive ace Gary Bell Jr. to spend a lot of time guarding Haws tonight.
Remember a few months ago when this very blog was worrying that Sam Dower's injury was going to hurt the Zags' season? Yeah, that hasn't happened. Sammy Jr. has come back in a mean way over the last few weeks, including a dominant 25 point, 15 rebound game against LMU last Saturday in front of his folks (and former roommate Kelly Olynyk), who flew into town for Senior Day. It's nice to see the big guy finishing his college career strong.
It's a little bit early to start guessing where the Zags might end up come Selection Sunday, but things would have to be bad in a sort of Roland Emmerich disaster movie sort of way for Gonzaga not to make the dance, so it's OK to speculate a bit. Last year, the Zags got some love from the selection committee with a number one seed (which was hard not to give them considering their top spot in the polls at the time). This year, don't expect anything near that high. Right now, ESPN's Joe Lunardi has them as an eight seed.
It may have been easy to miss during Sunday's Super Bowl, but a Pacific Northwest newspaper photographer had an unexpected, up-close encounter with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson during a run into the sidelines. Joe Barrentine, a former Spokesman-Review photographer, now working at The News Tribune in Tacoma traveled to New Jersey last week for the big game.
Early in the first quarter, Wilson made a dash to his left out of bounds and plowed into Barrentine, who kept on shooting photos the whole time like a total pro. Wilson paused to help Barrentine up and went on to demolish the Broncos. Barrentine was not injured and posted this first-person account at The News Tribune today.
Barrentine shook off his brush with Wilson and went on to shoot tons of great photos throughout the rest of the game. The collision later ended up making a highlight reel on ESPN, which one of Barrentine's many friends was helpful enough to post to Facebook.
I was fortunate enough to work alongside Joe at my college paper at Washington State University. I'm glad he made it back home in one piece. Wilson couldn't have picked a nicer guy to crash into, but as Joe now gets to brag:
"I was the only guy to tackle Wilson all night."
Former Gonzaga Prep standout Ryan Nicholas doesn’t root for the Zags.
“I definitely did, especially when I was younger,” he says.
These days, the senior forward is in the business of beating, rather than supporting, Gonzaga. Nicholas and his Portland Pilots will visit Gonzaga tonight, looking for a second straight win over his hometown’s team.
Nicholas, the 2010 Greater Spokane League MVP, was far from the only talented athlete during his days at Gonzaga Prep. Six of his teammates went on to play for NCAA Division I teams. Most notable among them are Gonzaga’s David Stockton and Washington State’s Travis Long, who currently plays for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.
It was during high school that his feelings towards the Zags started to change. Nicholas committed to the University of Portland before the start of his senior season. The Pilots’ West Coast Conference affiliation, and the chance to play the Zags didn’t come into play when he was trying to decide on a school.
Nicholas didn’t deny that playing the Zags twice a year does have its perks.
“It’s nice to go back every year,” he said, “it’s a cool experience to be able to share that with friends and family.”
Visiting teams are given an allotment of tickets to hand out to friends or family. In the always sold out Kennel, it’s not easy to get a seat. Even if you’re related to one of the players.
“I have so much family there that I barely have enough for all of them,” Nicholas said.
Hopefully he has enough this time because, not only will this be his last game in Spokane but, it comes as he is playing the best basketball of his career. Averaging 8.9 rebounds per game, Nicholas is the WCC’s leading rebounder.
His minutes and points per game are down somewhat from last season, but that’s no fault of his. This year’s Portland team is much better and more balanced than it has been in years past. Over the past 10 seasons, the Pilots have defeated the Zags once — on Jan. 9. This Pilots team did what none over the past decade were able to do. It was an easy victory in Portland, 82-73, in which Nicholas contributed eight points and nine rebounds.
Over Nicholas’ career the Pilots have played a non-conference schedule more difficult than even Gonzaga fans are accustomed to. In November, they traveled to East Lansing, Mich., for a date with then No. 1 Michigan State. The Pilots played twice at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena, about which Nicholas said, “Playing at Kentucky, there are so many more people [than at Gonzaga], it’s like an NBA arena.” That experience doesn’t mean he and the Pilots are ready for the Kennel, where, he says, “you can literally feel the students.”
The Zags will need that energy on Wednesday if they want to beat a team that knows it can beat them and isn’t afraid of their building. Nicholas, obviously, wants to win. But, win or lose, he’ll be happy about one thing.
“It’s cool to be home,” he said, “we don’t get much time at home.”
Gonzaga vs. Portland • 8 pm tonight • McCarthey Athletic Center • Televised live on KHQ6
America likes a winner. That’s the takeaway from this map released today based on which team Facebook users were rooting for during the Super Bowl yesterday. The Broncos weren’t hurting for fans — Colts country stayed loyal to Peyton Manning, and 49ers fans must have been cheering for the team that’s not the Seahawks — but the Seahawks got the same bump from disgruntled New England fans. And check out that blue block in the upper left — that may as well be considered the official geographic definition of the Pacific Northwest.
And it’s a big improvement from the map we saw before the NFC Championship game, when the Northwest fandom was up against pretty much the rest of the country.
• 50 million unique users on Facebook posted, liked or commented about something related to the Super Bowl on Sunday.
•More than 24.9 million Tweets were posted about the game and halftime show, beating last year’s 24.1 million Tweets.
•Percy Harvin’s kickoff return for a touchdown at the beginning of the second half was the most popular moment on both Facebook and Twitter. (The second-most popular moment for both was Jermaine Kearse’s game-sealing touchdown toward the end of the third quarter.)
•The most-mentioned players for each team on Twitter were Percy Harvin (followed by Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson) and Peyton Manning.
•The halftime show by Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers got more tweets than anything Denver did the whole game.
UPDATE: Deadspin just posted the pre-Super Bowl fandom map, which makes for a great contrast. On the left is the pregame fandom map (comparable to the 49ers map above) that shows which team has the most Facebook fans in each county. On the right is the map from during the game (same as the top map in this post), showing which team people were actively supporting. So, as the game unfolded, either people switched allegiences or Seahawks fans came out of the woodwork as their team dominated. Probably a little of both — it was a good day to be a Seahawk fan.
The whole state’s gone crazy for the Seahawks ahead of today’s big game. A small sampling...
...Skittles make sense. But good luck finding them — people are reporting statewide shortages of the regular kind.
This Skittles-covered football sold for $5,200 on ebay.
Or how about a portrait of Marshawn Lynch made out of Skittles by Death Cab for Cutie bassist Nick Harmer?
Beer makes sense. 12th Can, how could you resist? (Click Distributing told us yesterday that it’s pretty much completely sold out in the Spokane area.)
...or for the wine folks, 12th Man wine from Northwest Cellars. (The first shipment at Nectar Tasting Room sold out almost immediately.)
Mmmm, Skittles sausage.
Skittles put to use at Dawn of the Donut...
And Seahawks in all forms of cake: cupcakes...
Of course, we're drinking Seahawks colors. (Haven't heard any reports of Blue Curacao shortages, but that wouldn't be surprising.)
Seahawks nails for the ladies...
...and Seahawks haircuts for the gents.
Seahawks spirit all the way from Schweitzer...
...to the Spokane City Council chambers.
Seahawk crock pots...
Even convenience store delis got into the spirit.
And if you want to know where the symbolism all got started, check out this great story.
You’ve probably been hearing about how this Super Bowl is extra special because it puts the best defense in the league — our own Seahawks — against the best offense. The good people on the Guardian US Interactive Team dissected that soundbite with the stats behind every Super Bowl ever, and presented the results in some in-depth charts:
Not your standard bar charts, to be sure, but there’s tons to pore over for sports stats nerds. (Disclaimer: I know several of the people who made this, and at least one is a Broncos fan.)
Facebook did another analysis based on “fan sentiment” — it turns out that, throughout the season, fans’ positive or negative emotion words correlates with how well a team ends up doing. More positive words before the game = more likely to win. They explain:
“Fans of the team that eventually wins tend to be slightly more positive before the game than fans of the team that loses. This is probably because the best teams have more positive fans and also tend to win their games. In the playoffs so far, the team with the best pre-game sentiment (two hours before each game) has won nine out of ten times.”
The chart leading up to the Super Bowl shows that Broncos fans are quite a bit more positive than Seahawks fans — but some people have already pointed out that could be a misleading “Sherman effect.” Is it possible Seahawks fans just express their excitement in less “positive” emotion words? Anecdotally, seems possible.
We did check to see if Deadspin’s Regressing did an update on its fandom maps, but there doesn’t seem to be one.
You are probably going to be watching the Super Bowl on Sunday because a team from the Northwest is playing in the game and you're boiling over with a sort of regional pride you've never felt before.
Suddenly, you are a Seahawk fan. That's perfectly fine. You're living within the Seahawk Nation and this is a group of fans that has been friendly to bandwagon hoppers. Shit, you even have a T-shirt! You're in! You're a 12.
And now you're going to an exclusively Seahawk-supporting Super Bowl party. Allow me to provide some pointers.
DO: Wear Seahawk colors or gear.
DON'T: Paint your face. No one will talk to you.
DO: Bring beer from Seattle. Rainier is no longer made in Seattle, but the nostalgia factor is high. But I recommend bringing the 12th Can from Hilliard's Beer in Seattle. I started drinking it sometime after halftime of that NFC Championship, so it passes the superstition test.
DON'T: Bring flippin' Coors or Coors Light. First off, it's awful, horrid stuff. Secondly, it's basically the state beverage of Colorado and the sort of swill favored by Broncos fans. There is going to be a hardcore fan at this party that will point this out to you.
DO: Cheer for the Hawks. Go crazy. Everyone else will be doing that.
DON'T: Ask questions about the basics of football. There is a time for that in the preseason, or maybe when we're playing the Jaguars or something, but that ship has sailed. Just follow the lead of your fellow partygoers.
DO: Take the time to make a creative and tasty appetizer. Here's a couple ideas from this week's paper.
DON'T: Eat the Velveeta and chili dip that's on the table yet no one admits to having brought. That shit is basically plastic. You don't want to spend the fourth quarter in the bathroom. Yes, I know, that first bite is heaven — the rest is just sadness.
DO: Bring Skittles. As far as scientists can tell, this is the only food Marshawn Lynch has eaten for the past 20 years and is the source of his beastly running abilities. They even have Seahawk colored Skittles now! It is reported to be extremely hard to find.
DON'T: Accidentally buy Reese's Pieces.
DO: Watch the game. The entire game.
DON'T: Drunkenly admit you really only care about the commercials.
DO: Have an excellent time and remember that this is special. Be conscious that the hardcore fans are very serious about their team and some of them have been watching the Seahawks as long as they can remember. Some of them dressed up as Curt Warner (the running back, not the quarterback) for Halloween in 1988 and 1989 and had a dad who worked hard to be able to take them to a game every couple years and buy their kid a Starter jacket, which he wore on the playground for several years when the Seahawks were absolutely terrible. Realize that these fans, especially those who grew up in Seattle, have been continually disappointed by their sports teams and they want this Super Bowl win with a lust that they know probably isn't healthy, but damned if they're turning back now.
DON'T: Tell these people to calm down.
Walking past Wilson Elementary School this morning, I noticed a banner reading "RUSSELL" in large letters placed over where you'd usually see "Woodrow" on the sign above the school's front door.
As kids many, many of them in Seahawks gear, with no shortage of Russell Wilson jerseys in the mix, filed through the doors, I figured somebody had to have caught on to it, and then found this video produced by Spokane Public Schools and released yesterday.
Not only is the school celebrating the Seahawks amazing quarterback, they — prompted by what I'm going to go ahead and guess is the coolest principal on the planet, Tony Ressa — were doing the chant to a Phish song that Seahawk fans have been doing at Century Link Field all season.
Appropriately, some national media outlets have picked up on this.
Maybe liberals can do for Spokane what liberals did for Detroit.
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