Spam! And Ducks spam too, now that we're not in direct competition. :P
SHARKS RIDING CHEECHOO TRAIN TO THE CUP?
Friday, March 31, 2006
Jonathan Cheechoo, San Jose's scoring ace, has always been about goals – on and off the ice.
Even when the score didn't count, Cheechoo, who hails from the tiny northern Ontario town of Moose Factory, always played with purpose.
"The fondest memory is playing on my outdoor rink my dad made outside on the pond," recalled Cheechoo, of his childhood days in Moose Factory, an unincorporated island community near the mouth of the Moose River, at the southern end of James Bay.
"There are a few players in each community that have a lot of talent. Once they decide to make hockey their career, and leave home, it makes it beneficial for them because it's hard to be seen up north."
Cheechoo, who left his hometown at the age of 14 to pursue his hockey dreams, had no problem being seen and heard.
"I kept moving down south and getting breaks on every team I played for," said the forward, who played three seasons of junior hockey with the Ontario Hockey League's Belleville Bulls. "I was always put in a good situation. It's what I've always wanted to do since I was a little kid."
It was with Belleville where Cheechoo stamped himself as a solid NHL prospect.
He was named to the OHL All-Rookie Team in 1998 and saw his offensive production increase with each season. Instrumental in guiding his team to the 1999 OHL Championship, Cheechoo, drafted 29th overall by San Jose in his first year with the Bulls, finished his three-year tenure in Belleville with 111 goals and 249 points.
In 2000-01, he suited up with the American Hockey League's Kentucky Thoroughblades and went on to finish tied for fifth in AHL scoring with 66 points. Cheechoo was also named to the AHL All-Rookie Team.
He was also one step closer to the NHL.
Cheechoo joined the AHL's Cleveland Lumberjacks the following season where, for a second consecutive year, he was named to the Canadian All-Star Team for the AHL Mid-Season Classic.
Following two brilliant campaigns in the AHL, Cheechoo became a permanent fixture with San Jose in 2002-03.
In spite of the sacrifices it took to realize his goal of an NHL career, there's no place else in the world Cheechoo would rather be.
"What inspired me to leave home was that it was my goal to play in the NHL since I was five," he noted. "There's not much scouting up in northern Ontario, so I had to move and get noticed, so that was my inspiration."
Now it's Cheechoo who is doing the inspiring as one of the most electrifying performers in the game.
In 2003-04, the now 25-year-old recorded 28 goals and 47 points in 81 games with the Sharks.
After playing in the Swedish Elite League as a member of HV 71 Jonkoping
in 2004-05, Cheechoo has risen to prominence this season as one of the top goal-scorers in the league.
With the addition of superstar forward Joe Thornton via a trade near the end of 2005, Cheechoo has been lighting the lamp seemingly at will.
As for why the two teammates have become one of hockey's most potent one-two punches, Cheechoo chooses the term "compatibility."
"I like to shoot the puck and get open for him," said Cheechoo, of Thornton, the league's leader in assists. "I'm just looking for the open spot. He is a great passer and we just click well together."
Too well, most of their rivals would say.
For Cheechoo, one of the most rewarding aspects of his scoring exploits is in the reaction of the San Jose faithful.
"It's pretty exciting to hear people chant your name," said the 6'1", 195-pounder, who when he was 12, for a school assignment, wrote that he wanted to play for the Sharks in 2002. "You must be doing something right and it gets you pumped up."
Cheechoo, whose most memorable NHL moment is playing in the 2003-04 Stanley Cup Playoffs, has had plenty of reasons to be pumped lately.
And although expectations are loftier than they've ever been, the only member of Moose Cree First Nations to sign an NHL contract isn't letting the pressures get in the way of his enjoyment of the game.
In fact, the more demands there are, the better Cheechoo responds.
"There was a little bit of pressure, but it is more of an honor than pressure," said Cheechoo, who, if he wasn’t playing hockey, would be teaching elementary school. "I have fun at it."
I don't like Cheech "getting open" for Joe. :(
I'm so happy for all his success, though. I remember his rookie year, he was one of the few guys - sometimes the only guy - who never gave up and played hard every game, trying to make things happen. His style of skating could best be described as "newborn deer", and now that he's worked hard over the summers to improve his skating, he doesn't look like that anymore. I kind of miss it. *giggle*
Smooth sailing for Cheechoo, Thornton
By Larry Wigge | NHL.com columnist
April 6, 2006
With the precision of a Swiss watch, Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo have been more productive than any pair in the NHL since Thornton was traded by the Boston Bruins to the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 30.
But Cheechoo doesn't remember their first meeting as very positive.
First meeting? It wasn't at Buffalo December 2?
"We first met at (former Buffalo Sabres coach) Ted Nolan's golf tournament a couple summers ago," Cheechoo said. "Seamus Kotyk, who was a goaltender in the Sharks organization, knew Joe and introduced us. After the golf, Joe invited us up to Port Stanley (in Ontario near Joe's home) to water ski. It was my first time on water skis and all I remember is everyone laughing at me."
"Did you ever get up on the skis?" Thornton asked, tongue in cheek.
"The first time I made a big splash face first into the water," Cheechoo said, with an embarrassed look on his face.
Thornton, then tried to bail Cheechoo out, saying, "It was a big boat. You have to remember, it had a lot of drag on the line, so ..."
But by this time, Cheechoo thought he was being one-upped again and sounding a tad testy, Jonathan returned fire, saying, "Hey, wait a minute, I did get on my feet on the second try."
The big splash that Cheechoo and Thornton made in the NHL has been more than a tad troublesome to Sharks' opponents.
"I remember one of our first shifts together in Buffalo (on Dec. 2), Joe sent me a perfect saucer pass from the corner over a couple of bodies and landed perfectly flat at my feet in front of the net and I scored," Cheechoo said with a big smile. "I thought to myself, 'Wow! This must be how it feels to be in heaven.' "
It's rare for two players to change the fortunes of an entire team, but Thornton and Cheechoo have done just that for the Sharks.
After an assist by Thornton on Cheechoo's 43rd goal of the season in a 6-0 victory at St. Louis on March 21, the twosome had been lights out -- Thornton leading the NHL since Dec. 2 with 16 goals and 51 assists in 43 games, while Cheechoo was not far behind with 36 goals and 20 assists in the same span to lead the Sharks to a 26-11-6 record.
That's after the team was wallowing with a 8-12-4 mark pre-Thornton-Cheechoo.
"The story isn't a solo act by any means," Sharks coach Ron Wilson told me. "From their first game together, it's been kind of magical how the skills of both players have just meshed."
Like ... Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri.
"Precisely," said Wilson.
Earlier this season, I was talking to veteran center Doug Weight, then with St. Louis and since traded to Carolina, about how it must be comforting to know that Peter Forsberg had moved from Colorado, leaving one less super center to face in the Western Conference.
"Yeah, but it might be worse now that Joe Thornton has left the East for San Jose ... and don't forget he's found a pretty darn good shooter to set up there," Weight said. "That Cheechoo ... he was getting stronger and better all the time ... and when you put someone out there to put him in an offensive mode all the time, well, I wouldn't be surprised to see Cheech score 50 goals before he's finished this year."
Pretty good guesstimate following an mid-December game, eh?
"From the time I was a kid dreaming about one day playing in the NHL, I thought I could be a goal scorer," Cheechoo said. "But not like this."
Cheechoo went from being a productive 28-goal, third-line scorer for the Sharks in 2003-04 to one of the most dangerous snipers in the game. He went from having an 8.4 shooting percentage in his first 24 games to an incredible 20.8 in his next 43 games.
The Cheechoo story was already an amazing one. Just getting to the NHL was startling as Cheechoo made a quantum leap that started more than a decade ago, when he left his home in Moose Factory, Ontario, an Island community of about 2,000 people about 500 miles north of Toronto, in an attempt to become the first Cree Indian to be drafted and play in the NHL.
"Not playing against San Jose much and only seeing him on TV a few times, I didn't realize how good and quick and dangerous he is at finding those holes a passer always looks for when he's trying to find a goal-scorer. After the first game or two, I knew we had that kind of chemistry I had with Glenn Murray for so many years in Boston. Maybe better."
"There are no paved roads in Moose Factory, just some gravel streets," Cheechoo said. "When the Moose River freezes over, a road is constructed across the ice to the mainland town of Moosonee, where the train station is located. In the summer, motorized canoes take residents back and forth. But in the spring and fall, when the river is thawing, the only travel between the towns is by helicopter."
An ultimately driven player like Cheechoo went back to Moose Factory after the 2003-04 season to work more on his shooting, firing hundreds of pucks each day at Mervin and Carol Ann Cheechoo's barn.
So when Cheechoo arrived in San Jose after the year-long lockout, he already had a little more fire in his dark brown eyes. And that was before Thornton arrived.
When the twosome joined together, it was like opening up a shooting gallery.
"For a guy who has been stuck playing with me for the last couple years, he's still managed to score a lot," chuckled Scott Thornton, cousin of Joe and frequent linemate of Cheechoo. "He has a gift for finding the net. He loves to have the puck on his stick. He loves the pressure situations. He just wants to score.
"He's one of those players with a karma ... or electricity about him. His confidence is contagious. Everyone likes him -- and I'll swear you can feel the energy going right up and down the bench every time he scores."
Cheechoo plays with a great deal of grit, though he has the soft hands of a goal scorer.
"He's a gritty goal-scorer," said Mike Ricci, now with Phoenix, but a former linemate with Cheechoo and Scott Thornton back in 2003-04. "Yeah that's right -- gritty and a goal scorer. He's not the fastest skater in the world, but he finds a way to get to the net -- and boy can he shoot."
"I've never seen a player with such character and drive to succeed," said Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson. "He plays with a grit that others can only hope to have. He's almost like a wide receiver who you ask to go across the middle with the possibility he's going to get creamed by a linebacker. With Cheech, you don't have to ask him to do it a second or third time.
"When we bring a young kid in all I have to do is tell him to watch Cheechoo's work ethic and try to mirror it."
Joe Thornton echoed those likeability qualities of Cheechoo.
"I wasn't sure what to expect when I got traded," he said. "Not playing against San Jose much and only seeing him on TV a few times, I didn't realize how good and quick and dangerous he is at finding those holes a passer always looks for when he's trying to find a goal-scorer. After the first game or two, I knew we had that kind of chemistry I had with Glenn Murray for so many years in Boston. Maybe better."
According to Cheechoo, he had to change his game a little to mesh with Thornton.
"Joe is so good along the boards and around and behind the net -- places where I used to do a lot of my work," Cheechoo said. "Now, I have to pick my spots when to go into those areas. But I'm not complaining."
Ron Wilson said a coach dreams of finding a pair that clicks like this.
"I had Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya in Anaheim and Adam Oates and Peter Bondra in Washington," he said. "You feel lucky to have such ultra-talented players to tap on the shoulder and send on the ice who you can pretty much count on to create scoring chances throughout the game.
"My only concern is that Cheech might lose the grit part of his game. I don't want that. But even though Joe wins so many battles down low with his size, Cheech is often right in there with him before he goes into that stealth mode of his where he kind of disappears for the blink of an eye and then reappears in one of those scoring areas and Joe hits him with one of those feather passes of his."
Was there any advice Ron Wilson gave to Thornton before his first game with the Sharks.
"The only thing I told Joe before I put him out there with Cheech is that he was a third-line player who had 28 goals in a checking role back in 2003-04 who just loves to shoot the puck," Wilson said. "I had always figured Cheech would someday get 35-40 goals. But from the minute I saw Joe and Cheech click, I knew we were in for something special."
Special is a word that often gets tossed into the conversation when you're talking about the 27-year-old Cheechoo, who proved prophetic about his career in the NHL when he was asked to write a paper when he was in 7th grade on the subject of what he would be doing 10 years from now. His answer: He would be playing for the San Jose Sharks.
Knowing the story and how his mother stumbled on the essay in a box around the house after Jonathan had made it to the NHL, I wondered if he perhaps also saw Joe Thornton as his center.
"You know how kids are," he said. "I probably envisioned Wayne Gretzky as my center ... or Mario Lemieux. But I know Joe and (Sharks captain) Patrick Marleau have been friends since they were 17 (and representing Canada in world junior tournaments even before Thornton was the No. 1 pick overall and Marleau No. 2 in the 1997 Entry Draft).
"We sit around the locker room and watch a lot of hockey games and whenever Boston was playing, Patty would tell me this or that story about Joe. ... So I guess it was almost like I knew him before I really met him for the first time."
Blues coach Mike Kitchen said there's one more part to this Thornton-Cheechoo equation.
"What makes the equation even more difficult to face is that Marleau lines up at center right behind Thornton and the Sharks make you pick your poison," Kitchen said. "If you try to use your best checker on Thornton and Cheechoo then you might give Marleau and his linemates too many good opportunities."
That's exactly what happened March 21, when Steve Bernier, a rookie winger playing with Marleau followed Cheechoo's goal with two of his own to begin the Sharks' blowout of the Blues.
Some players just make everyone around them better ... and Cheechoo, Joe Thornton and Marleau are three that the Sharks have going for them down the stretch run this season.
Trying to get the last word on the water skiing incident, Cheechoo wanted to make sure that I knew that he and Joe had agreed to spend some vacation time in Jonathan's neck of the woods this summer.
"We'll see if he's a better fisherman than I was a water skier," Cheechoo laughed. "And we'll see how much he likes moose meat, too."
If you get the impression that there's even a little friendly competitive edge even in talking about vacation, maybe that's what makes this Jonathan Cheechoo-Joe Thornton combination so special.
Finally! The story of how they met and the whole water skiing thing! One mystery solved.
Is it just me, or did anyone else feel kind of sorry of Glen Murray, like he'd been ditched for a younger and better looking model? I feel like he needs someone to be with him to eat ice cream and watch a movie together (have tissues handy).
The part that totally kills me about this article is Patty telling Cheech stories about Joe. The idea of Patty talking at all kind of kills me. And the two most sharky Sharks bonding. *makes unintelligible noises*
Jean-Sebastien Giguere Chat Transcript
April 5, 2006
Jean-Sebastien Giguere has arrived. He'll be answering your questions now.
What do you think are the key factors to Ducks' hot success recently?
Good leadership from our captain Scott Niedermayer as well as Teemu Selanne. We're really coming together as a team and following the game plan that the coaches have set, plus everybody is having fun, which is key.
I have a question about the new rules. How have they affected your play or preparation for games this season? Do you find yourself working more on one specific technique now because of the rule changes?
The rule changes haven't changed anything for me. I'm exactly the same as I used to be. There's not much to change for goalies. There was just a bit of an adjustment with the equipment.
What was it like for you to go from being practically unknown in the hockey world to being one of the NHL's biggest stars?
It was nice in some ways because I got to do a bunch of fun things due to the fame, but I don't play hockey to get recognized, I play hockey because I like it. It's a great job and I wouldn't want to do anything else.
J-S, who's your favorite goalie... other than you?
I really like Martin Gerber in Carolina. He was my backup here for two years. He's very technically sound and athletic. I really like the way he plays.
How does this Ducks team compare to the one that made the Stanley Cup Finals run a few years back?
Totally different teams -- different players and all that. For this team, our expectations were high coming into the season. We expected to make the playoffs right off the bat. Anything less would have been a disappointment. The team in 2003 surprised a lot of people and we just rode the momentum. We kind of came out of nowhere and didn't expect to be there.
You guys were struggling a bit earlier in the season with the overtimes and the shootouts. What has changed that has made you guys so productive especially as of late? Is it just the time to buy into Carlyle's System?
The shootout is kind of a luck thing. Of late, we haven't been in too many shootouts so we can't really compare. We've been successful lately, because we know each other a lot better and are playing well as a team and in a system. It takes a while for that to happen sometimes.
J.S., being a profesional hockey player requires alot of traveling. What city do you most enjoy traveling to and why?
My favorites are Chicago and New York City. I enjoy traveling to all the NHL cities though. I like cities where the downtown is happening -- lots of restaurants, sights and shopping. That's why I like Chicago and New York. You can leave your hotel and be right there in the action.
How do you feel about the return of Selanne and what do you think he brings (back) to the team?
He brings excitement, experience and attitude. He's got a great personality, always smiling and laughing. He's a great teammate... I can't say enough about him. He's having fun and he's playing exceptional hockey. It's fun to watch and be a part of.
Would you say the Niedermayer brothers have a bit of sibling rivalry in the locker room?
Not really. They get along very well together. I don't think they compete against each other in practice, even in a fun way. They are very professional in their approach. They enjoy playing together and it's great for them.
J.S. - I assume you watched hockey at the Olympics in Torino. Have you thought at all about playing for Team Canada in 2010? Is that something that interests you?
I would love to play for Team Canada, but it's not for me to decide. All I can do is play well and hope for the best. It's tough to knock guys like Brodeur and Luongo out.
What type of training do you do in summer. I have heard some guys don't run because they want to save their knees and I have heard others run alot.
I do weight-training -- lots of legs -- and core training. It's important to have your core strong. I also do cardio training and in August I get back on the ice.
What do you think about all of the young guys stepping up for the Ducks this year?
It's great! The future of this team is looking real good. They have so much talent. They can all really play, especially with their competitiveness, and they are only going to get better. It's going to be awesome to see them play for a long time.
With the pressures of making the playoffs and positioning riding on each game for the remainder of the season, what are you in the rest of the team going to have to execute well?
Winning all the games would be great, but we can't worry about where we are going to finish. If we work as hard as we can, good things will happen. It's a one day at a time thing.
Do you miss the Maritimes (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick)? If so, what do you miss about them? Also, do you plan to be in the Maritimes again anytime soon?
I've got lots of connections there. My wife is from them and I have a goalie store there in Nova Scotia. I go back a lot and I miss the people. They are all nice and friendly and you get really attached to them.
Thank you for participating and asking questions. Hope you enjoy the rest of the season and the upcoming playoffs.
I like the Gerber love. :)
NOTHING GOOFY ABOUT MCDONALD’S DUCKS
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
When Don Vaughan sizes up the greatest players to ever strap on the skates at Colgate, the name Andy McDonald is always a big part of the conversation.
During his 12-plus seasons behind the Raider bench, Vaughan, head coach of Colgate University's men’s hockey team, has watched several talented players walk through the dressing doors.
Few, if any, have left the type of impression of a forward whose National Hockey League career is on the rise.
"A lot of guys take awhile to figure out the league and I think that's what happened with Andy," said Vaughn, of McDonald, the former Raider who has enjoyed a breakthrough campaign with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2005-06. "He's a patient, hard-working guy and a great player."
One that Vaughn and the rest of the Colgate men's hockey program were thrilled to have in their uniform – even if scouting reports said McDonald didn't quite measure up to some of his contemporaries.
"We liked him from the very beginning," said Vaughn, the 2000 ECAC Coach of the Year who has mentored two Hobey Baker Award finalists, three All-Americans, an ECAC Player of the Year, two ESPN The Magazine Academic all-District I honorees, two ECAC Merit Medal recipients, and 33 all-ECACHL selections. "Others had concerns about his size, but his skating was so strong. We weren't worried at all."
In his first year in Colgate colours, 1996-97, McDonald recorded nine goals and 19 points in 33 games.
More importantly than the numbers, though, was the winning attitude the native of Strathroy, Ontario brought to the NCAA squad.
"There's always talk of players having a passion for the game, but in some cases, it's just window dressing," said Vaughn, who recorded his 200th career coaching victory with a 3-1 win against Union on February 18, 2005. "That's not the way with Andy. He likes to work."
Something Vaughn came to appreciate during McDonald's junior and senior seasons at Colgate.
"It was a common thing for me to get to the rink at eight in the morning and Andy would either be on the ice practicing, or he'd be done and was stretching," recalled Vaughn, of the centreman who notched seasons of 46 and 58 points, respectively, in his final two years with the Raiders. "He just loves to work."
McDonald is also a good listener, too.
Early on in his career with Colgate, the 5'10, 185-pounder was often targeted by the opposition, who felt the best way to neutralize McDonald was to knock him off his game.
"He would get shadowed by guys and he would get frustrated and sometimes take stupid penalties," said Vaughn. "He was taking out his emotion in the wrong way. We had a long conversation and talked about how he could best channel his energy. He took it to heart and it wasn't an issue after that."
But that's not to say McDonald, who signed as a free agent with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks on April 3, 2000, is willing to let a rival get the upper hand.
"The way he plays, he shouldn’t be overly concerned with going up against a bigger guy to fight for the puck in the corners – but that's something he recently mentioned that he'd like to work on," noted Vaughn. "He wants to get better at everything."
Averaging close to a point-per-game in 2005-06, McDonald, who had 30 points in 36 games in Germany during the lockout year, has been a major factor behind the Ducks success this year.
"I haven't been to a lot of NHL practices recently, but I did catch the Ducks when they were in Boston," said Vaughn, of the Western Conference club that has surprised many. "(Head coach) Randy Carlyle had the players jumping at practice. The work ethic of the players was extremely impressive."
And while some of the new rule changes implemented at the start of the season have played a part in McDonald's rise to prominence, Vaughn doesn't believe it tells the whole story.
"I'm not surprised at all to see Andy where he is and what he's achieved," offered Vaughn, of the player closing in on 300 games of NHL service. "The new rules have certainly helped him, but I'd go out on a limb and say that he'd still be where he's at even if there weren't any rule changes."
Fans might not have even seen the best of what McDonald has to offer yet.
"He's got a huge upside," said Vaughn, of the Colgate alumnus who still returns to the Madison County, New York school each summer for an annual golf tournament. "He's a smart guy who wants to get better all the time. We were lucky to have him here."
I am so, so happy for Andy. I stopped watching the Ducks after Petr got traded because I really dislike Teemu Selanne, but I'm so glad that Andy's playing well. And not concussed yet again. He's so cute and little. :)