by Christopher Carbone || AHL On The Beat Archive
“Cheechoo off the iron and in!” is becoming a common saying in Worcester Sharks announcer Eric Lindquist’s vocabulary this season.
Jonathan Cheechoo’s career has come full circle, as he is back in the Sharks organization playing for Worcester.
The Moose Factory, Ont., native’s professional career started on the Kentucky Thoroughblades in 2000, then the AHL affiliate of the San Jose Sharks.
Cheechoo quickly rose his way to the NHL, playing for San Jose in 2002. After the NHL lockout, Cheechoo found himself at the pinnacle of his career amassing 56 goals in a single season, and winning the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for most goals in the NHL.
Cheechoo was traded by the Sharks last season to the Ottawa Senators in a blockbuster deal. Ottawa turned out as not such a successful home for Cheechoo, as he was sent down to the AHL and eventually waived after only one season.
It was a call by Worcester head coach Roy Sommer that brought the forward back to the Sharks.
“I called him and no answer, I called him again no answer, I called him then I kept leaving him a message on his voice [mail] and I said I’m going to call you every day until you tell me at least you’re not interested or you’re not there,” Sommer said.
"He called back, and the next day he was a Worcester Shark.”
On Oct. 5, Cheechoo was officially back in teal, signing a professional try-out contract with the Worcester Sharks and reuniting with Sommer, his first professional coach in Kentucky and Cleveland.
“I’m happy to be back in a Sharks uniform; it’s a great organization,” Cheechoo said. “The big thing is being back under coach Sommer. He was my coach to start my career, and he is the type of guy that will do anything to help you. Hopefully he can help me get back to where I want to be.”
Ever since rejoining the Sharks, Cheechoo has been nearly unstoppable, especially on the power play.
“We’ve got the number one power play in the American Hockey League, and I don’t think since we’ve been in Worcester that we have had that,” said Sommer. “Maybe sporadically we’ve been up near the top, but never been number one this far into the season. Bottom line is two words: Jonathan Cheechoo.”
Opposing teams know when they are on the penalty kill that number 14 will be on the ice, and this season it’s been near impossible to stop what’s going to happen. Cheechoo is always at the right spot on the ice, and it seems that his stick has a magnet for the puck, leading the team in goals and assists.
“I have been working hard this year. I lost my confidence a while back, but this season pucks are finding their way to the back of the net,” Cheechoo said. “My confidence is coming along because of that, and it is helping me get my game back to where I want it to be.”
Cheechoo has not only been a fixture on the ice for putting pucks into the net, but also a leader to his younger teammates that are gaining insightful knowledge from him about the sport. Rookie forward James Marcou has noticed Cheechoo’s work ethic, and has learned a lot in a short time from the NHL vet.
“He is always out there at the end of practice, before practice, so you see a guy like that going the extra mile to get back to where he wants to be in the NHL, and your definitely learning from that,” Marcou said. “You want that drive, the same drive he has.”
Cheechoo’s work ethic has been contagious in the locker room, leading a surging Shark attack. The team is playing inspired hockey with a sense of passion lead by his relentless will. Cheechoo feels the effect he has had on the younger player as well.
“I come in and work hard every day, and I try to lead by example. If any of the players have questions I try to answer them the best I can. They stay out after practice with me, and work on what I am working on as well. I had real good leadership when I was in their position, so I want to do the same for them.”
Cheechoo has been a tremendous addition thus far for the Worcester Sharks, and it’s because his heart has been in the game the whole way through.
“It’s something you put your whole heart into,” he said. “It’s still the game of hockey, and I love the game of hockey, and I love playing it. I get to play it as my job, and that’s something I’ll always cherish and never take for granted.
“I hope I can be part of it for a while longer, and hopefully things can work out, and I can get back on a high note and get back up to the NHL.”
Cheechoo doesn’t take anything for granted as a professional athlete. His second stint with the Sharks organization is already turning out to be a success, as he keeps putting points up at a feverish pace back in teal town, and one day again in the NHL.