Friday, May 4, 2007

Cheechoo Train

After the Caps finished toward the bottom of the standings, I decided to pick a favorite for the playoffs. It was a bit hard for me, as my two favorite non-Caps teams are the San Jose Sharks and the Nashville Predators, who played a bruising opening round against each other.

The Sharks won, and are currently in another tough series against the Red Wings. One of the big reasons I like the Sharks is Jonathan Cheechoo. Cheechoo is the first member of Canada's Cree Nation to play in the NHL and is one of just a handful of indigenous NHL players. An ESPN reporter recently tried to travel to Moose Factory, where Cheechoo is from. His experience went something like this:

To get there from Toronto, it's best to fly commercial to Timmins, take a small plane to Moosonee and then your choice: helicopter or -- in the winter -- drive across the river.Drive it is, by snowmobile...Most of the population of 2,700 live in wood-frame homes, many with canvas tepees in the back.

And this from Cheechoo:

Knowing he would need to get out of the boondocks to get noticed as a player, Cheechoo left home at 14 to live with another family in Ontario. "A lot of native people don't like to leave the reservation, so I go back and speak there as much as I can, encouraging them to venture out and, hopefully, have the same kind of success."

Needless to say, Cheechoo didn't have the same access to rinks or coaches until much later then many of his counterparts in the NHL. But what I like most about Cheechoo is this - he was told repeatedly in the AHL that he was not good enough for the NHL. But he worked incredibly hard on his skating and fitness and clawed this way to a roster spot. The result of all this? Cheechoo won the Maurice "Rocket" Richard trophy last year for most goals scored in the NHL. Jonathan Cheechoo, one part of why the Sharks are my playoff team. You can see a quick interview with Jonathan here.

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