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Friday, January 17, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Holmberg puts up serious numbers early in Chiefs’ season

Mitch Holmberg, center, has five goals and two assists this season. (Dan Pelle)
Mitch Holmberg, center, has five goals and two assists this season. (Dan Pelle)

The old jingle only offers a half-truth, because as 19-year-old Mitch Holmberg and company have proven, kids aren’t the only ones that can be a kid at Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Teenage hockey players are welcome to get in touch with their inner child, too, just as long as they don’t expect any special treatment in the form of prize tickets.

“We looked a little weird walking in,” Spokane Chiefs forward Liam Stewart said of a trip to the raucous family restaurant. “But after that we blended in fine. We wanted to win enough tickets for one of the good prizes, but that didn’t happen.”

Perhaps it would have if Holmberg would have been given the opportunity to do what he’s doing best this season for Spokane – scoring points.

Holmberg, the 21st overall pick and the Chiefs’ first-round selection in the 2008 Western Hockey League Bantam draft, is on a tear so far this season with five goals and two assists in the first three games. For the Sherwood Park, Alberta, native that includes a hat trick in the Chiefs’ 5-3 win over division rival Tri-City at the Arena last Saturday.

“He’s a really good player and he’s one of those guys where, if you get him the puck, he’s going to score most of the time,” said veteran Mike Aviani, Holmberg’s linemate and also one of Spokane’s top forwards.

“He makes my job really easy,” Aviani said. “It’s nice having a guy like him to play with.”

Holmberg’s strong start is a carryover from last season’s playoffs. Holmberg scored 11 goals – including two overtime winners – to lead the Chiefs before they were eliminated in seven games in the second round by Tri-City.

Prior to this season, Holmberg had scored a combined 42 goals the last two seasons, reaching a career-high mark of 27 last year, which ranked second for the Chiefs. With his 28 assists he scored a total of 55 points.

Three games into the new WHL campaign, and he’s on pace for 168 points – which isn’t likely to happen (for anyone in the league). But it does suggest that Holmberg is on track to become the Chiefs’ top offensive threat this year.

“I feel he’s going to be one of our offensive leaders – a guy we can depend on,” Stewart said. “I think he’ll have a point a game. He’s already on pace for a ridiculous season.”

But you won’t catch Holmberg focusing on his personal achievements – which are coming as a result of his dedication to the system, Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz said.

“I honestly believe scoring is a process. And you don’t score ‘just because,’ ” Speltz said. “(Chiefs coach) Don (Nachbaur) preaches it all the time – you can’t score from your own end. So until you are a complete player and you do the right things to get the puck out of your end – you’ve got no chance from there.

“Then, if you’re a puck guy, you have to have the puck. Again, you’re not going to get the puck ‘just because.’ You’re going to get the puck because you do a lot of things right. So to me, scoring is the end result of the correct process.

“Mitch, I think, is showing now that the more he is doing things right everywhere, the more chances he is getting – but he’s a team guy first.”

In hockey, being a team guy includes dishing out pranks to teammates on a regular basis. Holmberg’s go-to move seems to be the old cup-of-water -in-the-shinpads trick.

“You pull it out of your locker and I’m sure you can guess what happens then,” Stewart said.

“He’s known for that one,” Aviani added as the Chiefs wrapped up practice at the Arena on Wednesday.

Apparently hockey players can be kids, too.

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