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Where the 15 Minutes of Fame Never End
Josh and Ben here, bringing you all things obscure in the NHL every Wednesday. For our
first ever article here at Obscure Athletes, we’d like to examine an NHL player who faded into obscurity faster than any other we know. Seems like a good guy to start with since he’s more recent than most of the other athletes we’ll be looking at. This dude is basically the NHL equivalent of VH1’s Behind the Music: Vanilla Ice. We’re talking, of course, about Jonathan Cheechoo.
Jonathan Cheechoo was born in Moose Factory, Ontario in 1980. You might be wondering where Moose Factory, Ontario is, but unless you’re one of the 2,500 people who live there then you’ll most likely never figure it out. (Fun fact: Moose Factory is so small that their Wikipedia page exclaims that this “NHL star” hails from there. We’d prefer to call him a premiere Obscure Athlete). He made a solid case for the NHL by keeping over a point per game pace through his rookie season in the OHL, and was drafted in the second round in the 1996 draft.
After continuing his strong scoring with a 90-point campaign the following season, he was eventually was called up to the San Jose Sharks during the 2002-2003 season. It was a story made for a movie; he came from nothing and was finally getting his big shot.
However, Cheechoo played horribly, acquiring only 16 points in 66 games. He did rebound, having a 28-goal season for the Sharks in 2003-2004. The upcoming lockout seemed to be perfectly timed for Cheechoo to hit his prime overseas. He played in the Swedish Elite League for the dominant HV71, but he ended up with only 5 points in 20 games as the team missed the playoffs.
It seems that Jonathan Cheechoo was appropriately named, as the Cheechoo train absolutely dominated the rest of the NHL in 2005-2006. He wound up with a 56-37-93 line, and was a +23. 56 goals. Seriously. This made him the first First Nations, or Canada’s native population, player to win the Rocket Richard trophy. That’s great and all, but I’m still pulling for Manny Malhotra to be the first player of Native American descent to do something significant at all. After the season was all said and done, Cheechoo held the Sharks franchise records for goals, power play goals, and hat tricks in a season.
I’m not about to turn this article into a Joe Thornton love-fest, but it was painful for a Bruins fan to watch Joe Thornton turn a kid who looked like he’d be a perennial AHLer into a Rocket Richard winner. During Cheechoo’s career year, he managed only 15 points in the teams first 24 games. After Thornton came to town, he exploded with 78 points in 57 games playing on the first line. Thornton had 96 assists that season, 72 of them in San Jose across 58 games, leading the league in points and winning the Hart trophy in the process. After a follow-up year with a 37-goal, all-star season, he was signed to a new, five-year deal worth $15 million.
Cheechoo would soon fade back into obscurity however, seeing his goal totals drop from 37 to 23, then to 12. At this point, the San Jose Sharks were starting to catch on to the fact that Cheechoo’s shot was no longer deadlier than a ride in Dany Heatley’s Ferrari, so they brought in Heatley instead. Cheechoo was shipped to Ottawa along with Milan Michalek to Ottawa for the high scoring winger with a fantastic winning and team first attitude.
Since the trade, Heatley put up another 82-point season with 39 goals. Milan Michalek had his worst statistical season in the NHL, and Cheechoo, was sent to Binghamton and bought out in the off-season.
Earlier this year he had a professional tryout for the Dallas Stars (and was released after just two preseason games) and is having another go at cracking an NHL lineup with a tryout contract for the Worcester Sharks. He’s been playing relatively well with 16 points in 17 games despite a -9 rating. You should go see him in Worcester, MA tonight–word up to $1 hot dogs. Will this hot dog special continue to gain media attention and propel Cheechoo back into the NHL? We kind of hope not, as it’ll make us look like idiots for writing this article. But ‘cmon, how funny would it be to see Cheechoo rise up from the depths of mediocrity and crack the Sharks lineup again?
Josh Wilson and Ben Ricker are weekly columnists for Obscure Athletes, and the resident hockey experts