BY SCOTT HUNTER HADDOW
Jonathan Cheechoo has come a long way from the boy growing up in Moose Factory with big goals of making it to the National Hockey League (NHL).
On the way to making his dream come true, Cheechoo has never lost his love for Northern Ontario and makes regular trips to Sudbury every summer since his parents moved to the Nickel City.
Truth be known, Cheechoo made his first visit to Sudbury when he was 15, playing for a Kapuskasing hockey team. The team used to stay over in town on weekends to play teams from the area.
"At that age and time I thought Sudbury was huge," said Cheechoo. "It was nice here because they had great sports stores and plenty of hockey sticks."
Cheechoo left the town of Moose Factory when he was 14, to pursue a hockey career.
Life there didn't present a big enough challenge for his hockey aspirations. He spent a year in Timmins, followed by stops in Kapuskasing, Kitchener and then on to the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League. Cheechoo remembers the first month away from home in Timmins as being the hardest.
"I was homesick because I had never been away from home for more than a week," said Cheechoo. "I spent a lot of time on the phone talking to my parents."
As time passed, Cheechoo grew more accustomed to being away from home and his family. Even though he was focused on making the NHL, Cheechoo never lost sight of how important his parents were to him.
"My parents were my biggest supporters all the way through my career," said Cheechoo.
"They helped me with anything I needed and always made the time to come see me play."
His parents dedication to watch their son grow as a man and a hockey player had a profound impact on Cheechoo's life.
When his parents moved to Sudbury in the summer of 2001, Cheechoo, who always returned to Moose Factory to visit his family, started making his yearly visits to Sudbury.
His parents moved to Sudbury so his mother could finish her education at Laurentian University and his brother could play hockey in a hockey-mad town.
The move gave Cheechoo more of an opportunity to visit the people who mattered most to him in his life - his family.
"It's always good to see my family because I moved away from them when I was 14 and from then on I didn't get to see them all the time."
Cheechoo never imagined his parents would move to Sudbury, but he's glad they did.
Besides the more accessible visits, Sudbury has everything Cheechoo needs for his off-season training.
"Moose Factory doesn't have the proper facilities I need for training," said Cheechoo. "I love the track at Laurentian University because I have to do a lot of running for my training."
Cheechoo thinks Sudbury is just about perfect.
"I don't like huge towns and Sudbury is still in Northern Ontario, one of my preferences," said Cheechoo. "I think it's pretty nice here and I like the rocks all over the place."
Cheechoo played three seasons with the Belleville Bulls and then moved on to professional hockey. He plied his trade for two seasons in the minors working on his defensive game. Last season Cheechoo finally realized his dream, when he made the San Jose Sharks of the NHL. His first game was against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
"I was nervous and uptight at first because they have a team of All-Stars," said Cheechoo. "After playing a team like that you're not as nervous about other teams."
Cheechoo ripped his first NHL goal against the Nashville Predators and hasn't looked back.
"I'm proud of finally making it to where I am now because I worked so hard for it," said Cheechoo. "I'm never satisfied with myself and I'm always trying to get better because there's always someone looking to take your job."
For Cheechoo, even though he has achieved a high level of success, life is still fairly simple.
"I still love to hunt, fish and visit family," he said. "My parents always made the time to see me play when they could, so I always try to make the time to visit them. This is a little way I can pay them back."