San Jose Sharks right-winger Jonathan Cheechoo has finished the NHL regular season with a league-leading 56 goals, winning the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy in the process. In doing so, he joins heady company.
Philadelphia Flyers right-winger Reggie Leach was the last Aboriginal to score 50 goals, during the 1979-80 regular season. Leach leads all Native NHLers with a 61-goal season in 1975-76. He also went on to set the NHL record for most goals in a playoff season with 19 and most goals in a season, regular and playoff combined, with 80.
But unlike Leach, who suffered from alcoholism, Cheechoo is a true Aboriginal role model. But he’s one that some people take for granted.
I’ve heard people say, “He wouldn’t be so good if it weren’t for (Joe) Thornton.” That may or may not be true. But why, I wonder, do some people feel it necessary to bash their brothers?
He’s had a phenomenal season and is a superstar-in-waiting. The second-to-last week of the NHL season saw Thornton and Cheechoo share the player-of-the-week awards, with 11 and 10 points respectively, in four games. If these guys keep it up, we might be talking about a Stanley Cup in a couple of months.
The Sharks are a bit of a dark-horse candidate going into the playoffs and could knock off the Nashville Predators, their first-round opponent. If that happens, you can bet most of the scoring will be done by the dynamic duo.
If the Sharks falter in the playoffs, don’t be surprised if Cheechoo and Thornton are invited over to Europe to play alongside each other for Team Canada.
And the best part about him is he’s constantly working to improve his speed and shot. He knows he can be better and isn’t afraid to admit it.
Six more goals and he would have been the highest-scoring Native in NHL history. That’s not something we should take lightly.
He is also a class act all the way. He selflessly gives his time at different events and his quiet demeanor and willingness to speak to kids is uncommon in the age of the millionaire hockey player.
His true talent might not be scoring goals; it just might be staying humble and appreciating everything as it comes.
His popularity and talent will only help foster better young hockey players in Eeyou Istchee. He’s showing our youth that if they want something all they have to do is put their minds to it – and work very hard.
I asked him a couple years ago if he was shooting to be a 50-goal scorer some day. He was quick to dismiss the notion and sounded uncomfortable at the thought. There’s no need to ask that question anymore, although I guess the next logical step is to ask him when he’ll bag 60.
Twenty years from now there will be even more Aboriginal hockey players in the NHL and you can bet when they are asked who inspired them to get to where they are, their first answer – after their parents – will be Jonathan Cheechoo.