Bluebacks Clinch Playoff Spot

The Portland Bluebacks‘ first season in their new city has been a dream come to life.  They got off to a fast start and haven’t slowed down since.  They’ve had a sellout crowd for every game.  They have a fun new fight song.  And now, they’re the first SHL team to clinch a spot in the postseason.

“Stumptown, welcome to the playoffs!” crowed owner Jared Carmichael after his team clinched.  “We have the greatest fans in the league and they deserve this, and I’m so glad we were able to deliver.  Onward to greatness!”

The Bluebacks officially punched their ticket on Tuesday by beating the New York Night 3-2 at Neon Sky Arena.  During the team’s beer-soaked celebration, they sang several choruses of “Catch the Bluebacks Fever,” the aforementioned fight song.  The party continued when the team returned to Portland on Wednesday morning, where they were greeted at the airport by hundreds of fans, and at their game at Willamette River Arena the next night, where they soaked in the adulation of the crowd.  Then on Saturday, they thrashed the Anchorage Igloos 6-2 at Arctic Circle Arena to clinch their first-ever division title.

Vince Mango

“I wish we’d been able to clinch at home, because these fans have been there for us all season,” said RW Vince Mango.  “They’ve been the wind at our backs all the way through, and I can’t want to bring the Vandy home to them.”

This season saw another stage of Mango’s gradual maturation.  Once derided as a selfish, one-dimensional, publicity-hungry scorer, the winger stepped up his passing game last season, looking for ways to set up his teammates rather than always shooting first.  This season, Mango has embraced his role as a team leader. going out of his way to praise teammates in interviews and arranging team bonding events.

“The growth in Vince is the growth I’ve seen across the squad,” said coach Harold Engellund.  “He’s become a better and more well-round player, and we’ve become a well-rounded team.”

The Bluebacks are hoping that this year’s playoff experience is more pleasant than last season’s.  The then-Seattle Sailors made their first-ever trip to the playoffs in 2019.  But they faced off against the defending champion Igloos, and found themselves rudely dismissed in a three-game sweep.

“I think that was a good learning experience for us,” said Engellund.  “Anchorage handed us our heads, yeah, but we came away from that a stronger team.  And we learned about by watching Anchorage and their approach to the game, and how they took it up to the next level for the playoffs.”

Portland will definitely be a challenging playoff opponent.  They’ve been among the SHL’s top goal scorers all season, but they’ve also got a solid defense and excellent goaltending from the perennially underrated Jesse Clarkson.

“Playing in front of such big and enthusiastic crowds, it just fires you up,” said Clarkson.  “I think our crowds have added 20 points to my save percentage, just from the extra energy.”

The Bluebacks will surely be able to count on more sellout crowds in the playoffs.  Whether they can bring the Vandy home to those fans.. well, it should make for an interesting spring in the Rose City.

Wolves Announcer Mocks Portland, Draws Criticism

Michigan Gray Wolves radio announcer Blackie Sprowl puts plenty of color in his color commentary.  He has earned a rabid following among Michigan fans, but his blatant homerism and his penchant for jibes at opposing teams and cities have made him considerably less popular elsewhere.

This week, Sprowl made himself a new group of enemies in the SHL’s newest city.  The Wolves hosted the Portland Bluebacks at Cadillac Place on Thursday. and Sprowl shared his impressions of the city in a joking rant that inspired condemnation and calls for an apology.

The remarks occurred between periods, as Sprowl was doing a segment with play-by-play man Philip Shelton.  Shelton remarked in passing that the had never visited Portland prior to this year, and this set Sprowl off.

Blackie Sprowl

“This was my first time there too,” the color man remarked.  “And I have to tell you, landing in that city is like landing on another planet.”

“What do you mean by that?” said Shelton suspiciously, already sensing where it was heading.

“Well, for one thing, just try finding a normal meal there,” said Sprowl.  “I went out one night, just trying to get a hamburger.  And they give me this slab of tofu between blocks of ramen noodles, with… I don’t know, bean sprouts and kale all over it.  Then the next morning, I went out to find a café that served bacon and eggs, and all I could find was avocado toast on sprouted-grain bread and espresso-caffe-mocha-lattiatos, or whatever.”

“There are actually a lot of good restaurants in Portland,” Shelton interjected.

“I think the Bluebacks are gonna starve to death before the season’s over, because there’s no real food in that town,” Sprowl continued.  “You can’t keep hockey players fed on tofu and avocado toast.”

“Here we go,” said Shelton.  “This is going to be like the Anchorage thing all over again.  People will be throwing tofu in the arena.  Fans, please don’t do that.”

“Also, there aren’t any normal people living there,” Sprowl went on.  “Walk down the street, and everybody’s got nose rings and Birkenstocks and beards.  The men and women all have beards.  Or maybe it’s just men who look like women.”

“We’re going to hear about this,” warned Shelton.  “We’re going to get emails.”

“And the tattoos!” Sprowl exclaimed.  “What’s with all the tattoos?  When I was growing up, it was just sailors and truckers and carny people who had tattoos.  But everyone there has them!”

“’Carny people?’” said Shelton quizzically.

“I don’t think they let you move into Portland unless you have a tattoo.  It’s a freak show in the streets.  In the café I went to, the waitress was a real pretty girl, except for the art show on her arms.  It’s like spray-painting graffiti on the Mona Lisa.”

Shelton at this point began a mock disclaimer: “Mr. Sprowl’s views are solely his own, and do not reflect those of the Michigan Gray Wolves or this station.”

Ignoring Shelton, Sprowl concluded: “Apart from being a city full of freaks who eat hippie rabbit chow, Portland’s not bad.  And it’s a way shorter flight than Anchorage, so that’s a plus.”

As Shelton anticipated, Sprowl’s comments drew quick condemnation.  Leading the way was Bluebacks owner Jared Carmichael, who stood up for his home city.  “Blackie Sprowl’s remarks are full of the lazy, stereotypical thinking that too many Americans have about Portland,” said Carmichael.  “Granted, I have a beard, I wear Birkenstocks, and I have tattoos.  No nose ring, though, so I’m only three-for-four on his stereotype checklist.  We may seem ‘weird’ to Sprowl, but we’re proud of it.  I’d take our vibrant, artistic, diverse, beautiful, and weird city any day over the regressive, white-bread, 1950s fantasy world of his imagination.”

Portland coach Harold Engellund took a different tack, but expressed similar sentiments.  “I’m sure not about to go get a tattoo or a nose ring myself,” Engellund said.  “That’s not my style.  And a lot of the young folks around Portland don’t look like me or dress like me.  But who cares?  And why should the young folks care what Blackie or I think?  America’s a free country, and that means the freedom to be different.  All this talk about who’s ‘real’ and who’s a ‘freak’ is tearing us apart, and I don’t want to hear it.”

Star Bluebacks RW Vince Mango, meanwhile, took a different tack.  Mango, a noted foodie, offered to take Sprowl on a food tour of the city.  “If he wants hamburgers or bacon and eggs, I can show him where to find those,” said Mango.  “But if he’s up for opening his mind a little, I can show him what an amazing food city this is, and how much exciting stuff there is out there.  If he can look beyond the tattoos and the one-liners about avocado toast, I can change his life.”

The Wolves issued a statement that said they were “disappointed in Mr. Sprowl’s remarks” and would consider disciplinary action.

Continue reading “Wolves Announcer Mocks Portland, Draws Criticism”

Bluebacks Meet Fans, Unveil Unis

The first relocation in SHL history is official, as the Seattle Sailors are now the Portland Bluebacks.  The Bluebacks have already rolled out their logo; this week, they revealed their uniforms for the first time in a meet-the-team event.

The Bluebacks hosted fans and local dignitaries at Portland’s Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, which is the current home of the USS Blueback submarine, for which the team is named.

“I’ve been like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for this moment,” said owner Jared Carmichael.  “And now, the moment is finally here!”

Home Uniforms

The team’s uniforms, unsurprisingly, adopt the same color scheme as the logo: blue, green, and gray.  According to Carmichael, the colors are tied to Portland and the Pacific Northwest.  The blue represents the Willamette River, which runs through the middle of Portland and is where the Blueback currently rests.  The green represents the forests that are central to the region’s identity.  The gray represents the submarine itself.

Both the home and road uniforms feature a central element of the team’s logo: a blueback salmon jumping out of a submarine.  The salmon has already been dubbed “Charlie Tuna” on social media, because its coloring resembles the famed StarKist mascot.

The uniforms contains an old-school touch: a lace-up collar.  Thus far, the Bluebacks are the only team in the SHL with this collar; Carmichael had to negotiate with the league’s uniform supplier in order to make it happen.  “Personally, I’m a fan of the throwback look,” Carmichael said.  “And the fact that we’re the only ones doing it… that makes it even cooler.  I bet some of the other teams will be copying us soon, though!”

Road Uniforms

The Bluebacks’ unis were a hit with the players.  “I think we’re going to be the sharpest-looking team in the league!” exclaimed RW Vince Mango, who modeled the home uniform.  “And when you look good, you feel good, and that helps you play good.  I can’t wait to see these jerseys all over Portland!”

“I like that it’s a balance between old-school and new school,” said C Napoleon Beasley, who showed off the team’s road uniform.  “It’s a crisp, clean, classic look, but it has a couple of more modern elements.  And the green really pops!”

Bluebacks GM Taylor Teichman noted that the team was entering a new era by coming to Portland, but promised that their upward trajectory – the team made the postseason for the first time in 2019 – would continue.

“Today, obviously, we’re focused on the new – new city, new unis,” Teichman said.  “But we’ve got continuity in the areas where it counts: out front office, behind the bench, and with our top players.  And our commitment to being a Vandy-winning organization hasn’t changed one bit, either.  And we’re going to prove it to you on the ice very soon!”

For fans who want to see the new uniforms on ice, the Bluebacks have open their season at Willamette River Arena against the Dakota Jackalopes.

Sailors Sold, Moving to Portland in ’20

Ever since it became clear last year that the NHL was planning to add an expansion team in Seattle, the SHL’s Seattle Sailors knew they were living on borrowed time.  Although the NHL’s new club won’t take the ice until 2021, Sailors owner Gary Blum isn’t the type to sit around waiting; he wanted to find a new home for his team as soon as possible.  This week, Blum announced that he was selling the Sailors to a group that will move the team to Portland, Oregon for the 2020 season.

“We’ve had a great run here in Seattle, and I wish we could stick around for the long term,” Blum told reporters.  “But we’re getting pushed out.  Luckily, I was able to find a strong ownership group that’s looking forward to continuing what we’ve built, just in a new city.”

The Portland group is led by Jared Carmichael, a Rose City native and owner of a craft brewery and several local bars and restaurants.  “This is a really exciting opportunity for our city,” Carmichael said.  “Portland is growing rapidly, and it’s about time that we had another big-league sports team here.  I’m confident that the fans will support this team just as strongly as they did in Seattle, if not even better!”

Carmichael wasted no time announcing the new name for the team.  They will be known as the Portland Bluebacks, a name with a local connection.  The USS Blueback is a decommissioned US Navy submarine that was in service from 1959 and 1990.  Based out of the Pacific, the Blueback saw action in the Vietnam War and participated in multiple RIMPAC exercises.  She also appeared in the movie “Hunt for Red October.”

After being decommissioned, the Blueback was purchased by the Oregon Museum for Science and Industry, which towed it to the Willamette River and uses it as an interactive exhibit.  The Blueback is a popular local landmark, and has been mentioned in the TV series “Portlandia.”

Carmichael said he chose the name as a tribute to his late father, a Navy officer and Vietnam War veteran.  “I know if Dad were still with us, he’d be right there at center ice, cheering the team on,” said the incoming owner.  “I love the name; it’s uniquely Portland, it connects to our nautical heritage, and it honors my father and others who have served our country.”

At the press conference, Carmichael also unveiled the Bluebacks’ logo, which he explained was inspired by the patch worn by those who served on the submarine.  The logo features a submarine coming out of the water, with a fish emerging from the conning tower.  The fish is a blueback salmon, a common species in the Pacific Northwest, for which the submarine was named.

The Bluebacks will play in Willamette River Arena, located in Portland’s redeveloping South Waterfront neighborhood not far from the OMSI.  “SoWa is a great emerging area, one of the neighborhoods that really shows how Portland has grown and changed in recent years,” Carmichael said.  “With the Bluebacks coming, it’s going to be the hottest spot in town!”

The sale is contingent upon approval of the SHL’s owners, but league sources said this should be just a formality.

The Sailors are currently deep in the hunt for their first-ever playoff spot.  Asked if the sale news would dampen the team’s momentum, Blum replied, “I don’t think so, no.  In fact, I think it would be a nice parting gift for Seattle if we’re able to go out on a high note.  I’d love to leave the city with a happy memory, and I know our organization feels the same.”

Carmichael declined to comment on whether he planned to keep current Sailors personnel such as GM Taylor Teichman or coach Harold Engellund.  “Hey, let’s let the season play out,” Carmichael laughed.  “I will say that they’re doing a heck of a job so far!”

Sailors RW Vince Mango was at the press conference, and he reacted positively to the news.  “As a player, you don’t want to have to keep getting questions about where you’re going to be next year.  I’m excited to know what our future holds,” Mango said.  “And I hear that Portland’s a cool place to hang out!”