100 games a season: Gare Joyce's puck blog

Just like being in the scouts' & press' lounge, without the bad coffee and day-old Timbits

Location: Toronto

I've written for ESPN The Magazine and espn.com the last five years. My work has made the "notable" list of the Best American Sports Writing seven times and won four Canadian National Magazine Awards. My most recent book is Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts. I've written three other sports books: When the Lights Went Out: How One Brawl Ended Hockey's Cold War and Changed the Game; Sidney Crosby: Taking the Game by Storm; and The Only Ticket Off the Island: Baseball in the Dominican Republic.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Cheechoo: Background on the ESPN The Mag story

Went up to Moose Factory before Christmas to do a story on Cheechoo. While it would seem like an interesting place to visit for a hunting or fishing trip in season (if you can give up having a beer for the duration), let me talk you out of the notion of heading up there in late December. No place to eat ... the hotel dining room was closed because I was the only guest they had booked for the month, the one greasy spoon in town was shut down for stretches. Saw an ad on local cable for a sale at a Radio Shack in Moosonee so I took a snowmobile ride across the (mostly-frozen) Moose River to Moosonee figuring I'd go to the mall where the store was -- and found that it was an outlet in the back of the town's gas station. Dire isn't the word for my time. That said, the people were very welcoming, got the daughter a pair of moose-skin gloves (that still reek).

Cheechoo is a fascinating case. I remember him very well from junior. Back in '99 I saw him going head to head with the 67's. He had a lot going for him as a prospect--except his skating, which was maybe not even average. Did anyone then ever think he'd lead the NHL in scoring? You could have found a lot of guys who thought he wouldn't be an NHLer. A credit to his work ethic and John Ferguson Sr for seeing something that others missed. Interesting draft year.


Poor old Mathieu Chouinard, with the two career minutes he played for the Kings. Jeff Heerema we barely knew you. Michael Heinrich, later. Ten players from the O go ahead of him. Two dubious-character guys, Rico Fata and Mark Bell, went way ahead of him. David Legwand skated a lot better than most NHLers as an 18-year-old -- but,it turned out that everything else was a problem. Hard to imagine now that a few liked Legwand over Lecavalier (believe it, they did).

Granted, Cheechoo really took off after his draft year. But if you talked to Cheechoo, then or now, you'd bet he'd figure it out. San Jose drew laughs when Cheechoo was picked -- but then again Tampa Bay and Don Murdoch drew laughs when they took Lecavalier's team-mate in Rimouski in the third round.