“That was the toughest part,” Cheechoo said. “Growing up, I'd go over to my grandparents' every day. A city of 50,000 was big to me. I had to learn how to get around on a bus and other things. When I was home, I walked everywhere.
“Luckily I had a great support system. My parents were unbelievable throughout the whole process. They kept encouraging me to give it my best, chase what I wanted because they knew I'd regret it if I didn't give it my best shot.”
Cheechoo's best shot led to a seven-year NHL career. Including the playoffs, he scored 186 goals and 340 points in 560 NHL games.
The past two seasons, he's played in the AHL with Peoria and Worcester.
“He's a guy who can score goals. That's what we needed after those guys went back to Edmonton,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson, speaking of the young stars who rejoined the Oilers after the NHL lockout ended. “He's a good veteran and a really good person. He gives us some added punch.”
In the Barons' last game, Cheechoo tied the club record with five points on a goal and four assists. Cheechoo feels the Barons are a good fit for him.
“Obviously they lost some guys,” Cheechoo said. “They have a good, young team, a good base and a good coach. That was one of the things I was looking for. Coming here, I'll have the opportunity to earn my ice (time) and have a shot to put up some points.”
Age takes its toll. Cheechoo, 32, said undergoing double hernia surgery a few years ago sidetracked his career.
“I had a lot of injuries that last year in San Jose,” Cheechoo said. “A lot of little injuries add up after a while. It took a while to open my hips back to get more power, more strength. I had a good finish last year (56 points in 70 games). This year I'm looking to jump right in and get going in a shortened season.”
His goal — to play in the NHL — is the same today as it was nearly two decades after he left Moose Factory.
“With all the injuries that happen during a shortened season there could be some opportunities,” Cheechoo said. “I always work on improving and getting up my speed a little bit. I've just got to take care of my game. You never know what might happen.”
MORE FROM NEWSOK
BARONS VS. GRAND RAPIDS
When: 7 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Cox Convention Center.
Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1, Jim Byers play-by-play.
Tickets: Tickets starting as low as $10 are available at the Cox Center box office or by calling 232-4625.
Scouting report: The Barons continue to add veterans. Besides signing forward Jonathan Cheechoo and defenseman Brett Clark last month, Randy Jones and Theo Peckham are new additions with NHL experience. ... Oklahoma City is 10th the Western Conference with 48 points. Grand Rapids (56 points) is second and leads the Midwest Division. ... The Griffins, the Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, are led by Gustav Nyquist (43 points).