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Central: Chimera a heart-and-soul player

by Larry Wigge

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Jason Chimera was
originally drafted in the 5th round by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1997 Draft, and also played briefly for Varese HC in Italy.
Jason Chimera video highlights 
A couple key goals at this time of year are worth about 10 or 12 earlier in the season. This is the time of year when you don't ask who gets the goals, but you take them from anyone, including unlikely sources.

Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Jason Chimera is that kind of source. He's smart, fast and a team player. Don't dare judge him by his point total, instead judge him by what he brings to the team.

Chimera, who is 6-foot-2 and 206-pounds, grew up in Edmonton fascinated with the Oilers of the 1980s, who epitomized speed and skill. Chimera has become just the sort of hard-to-play-against NHL player he grew up idolizing. He's one of those special hard-work, never-take-off players you want on your side when something important is being played for.

And such has been the case for the Blue Jackets as they attempt to make it to the playoffs for the first time in team history.

Three days after the Feb. 26 trade deadline, Columbus was playing its first road game without captain Adam Foote and two-time Stanley Cup champion Sergei Fedorov against the Vancouver Canucks. The Blue Jackets rallied for two goals 70 seconds apart late in the third period, and then scored again 67 seconds into overtime. Chimera raced to the front of the net and reached the goal crease in the nick of time to tip home Nikolai Zherdev's lead pass just beyond the outstretched glove of Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo for a 3-2 victory. Two nights later, Jason scored a goal midway through the third period that gave Columbus another lead, only to lose in a shootout in Edmonton.

We all know that big players play big in big situations -- even if they often are judged on something other than the 13 goals they've scored all season like Jason Chimera. Recently, the Blue Jackets acknowledged that value by signing Chimera to a new four-year, $7.5 million contract. Chimera's side wanted three years. Jackets GM Scott Howson, however, wanted his heart-and-soul winger tied up for at least four more years.

"Chimera's a great teammate," said St. Louis Blues captain Eric Brewer, who played for the Oilers with Chimera and won the gold medal at the World Championships in Russia with him playing for Team Canada last spring. "He's like the Energizer Bunny, always in motion. He's a high-energy, physical player -- very hard to play against. When you're on the ice with him, he just makes you want to play harder, like him.

"He's one of those guys who has the gift of speed. He's big and he's strong and if he gets that outside lane on you and goes hard, good luck trying to stop him. He's just scary fast."

Nobody bled Oilers' blue more than Chimera, who got an Oilers jersey for his 18th birthday, six weeks before his hometown team made his day by picking him in the fifth round, No. 121 overall, in the 1997 Entry Draft.

Playing in parts of four seasons in those Edmonton colors was enough to whet Jason's appetite to play regularly in the NHL.

"Edmonton was great. It was surreal getting drafted by the team I grew up rooting for," Chimera said. "I remember I used to go to the West Edmonton Mall and watch the Oilers practice and wait to get autographs. I was a huge fan.

"When you get traded from your home town, it's tough to take. I loved it there. But by the end of the 2003-04 season, I knew I was ready to play in the NHL. All I wanted was a chance and I didn't care where."

Following that season, Chimera was traded to Phoenix in a draft-day deal. But then the lockout hit, and Chimera was traded to Columbus, after he spent the entire training camp with the Coyotes.

"I only spent two weeks in Phoenix," Chimera said.

But everything turned out fine when the inexperienced, high-energy winger went to the Blue Jackets with all confidence in the world.

"Earlier in my career, I was playing not to make a mistake. I was playing scared and you can't do that," Chimera said. "Now I just treat every shift as a new shift, every game a new game. And, if I make a mistake, big deal, I can go out and make it up the next shift."

Wonder where Jason gets that team-first attitude? Likely from his hard-working dad, Don, who was a pipe fitter, and his mom, Audrey, who was a teacher's aide. That kind of upbringing, plus a hunger that grew inside this south-side Edmonton kid, who was often told that at 140 pounds this skinny kid wasn't made for hockey.

"I'd take another 10 guys on my team with Jason's work ethic". -- coach Ken Hitchcock

"When we drafted him, he was a skinny, small kid. A bit of a long shot but a good late-round pick," Oilers GM Kevin Lowe said.

"He's got big speed and uses his shot off the wing really well," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "We didn't have the time to give him. We were loaded on the left side. But everyone in the room liked him and we wanted to give him a chance somewhere else."

Chimera, whose first Columbus shot was a goal, has fit in pretty well.

"I'd take another 10 guys on my team with Jason's work ethic," coach Ken Hitchcock said.

"It's funny, but things seem to be going a little faster on the ice when Chimmer is out there,” Columbus goalie Pascal Leclaire said. "He's got a way to get everyone's heartbeat beating a little faster with his enthusiasm."

Jason laughed when asked if he does everything at the kind of speed that enabled him to surpass Mike Gartner's fastest skater record in the skills competition at the All-Star Game at the Oilers' skills competition in 2003.

"My dad always told me; 'Don't be afraid to be a dreamer,'” Chimera said. "He said; 'Dream and try to reach that dream with everything you've got.' "

Chimera, who weighed 140-pounds when he was drafted, had obstacles to overcome, but never thought of the lack of size as an impediment.

"To me, your head is the biggest obstacle to overcome," Chimera said. "As a kid, I just played. Then, in Edmonton, I worried. I began to wonder where I fit in. Once you learn that you make your own breaks in this world, you're just fine."

It's easy to see why Columbus wanted Chimera in their lineup for four more years.

Around the Central

Detroit -- The Red Wings' dominant precision puck-possession game clearly starts on the back end -- as we found out when the team went into a 1-8-2 slump when defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Chris Chelios and Niklas Kronvall were all

sidelined. With Kronvall back in the lineup March 2 in Buffalo, along with newcomer Brad Stuart, the Wings rolled to a 4-2 victory. Then, three nights later, they beat St. Louis 4-1 with Rafalski coming off the injured list. Nicklas Lidstrom is expected to return this weekend. ... Coach Mike Babcock expects Dominik Hasek to play 10 of the final 15 games to get his No. 1 goalie get ready for more work in the playoffs. ... With two goals against St. Louis, Pavel Datsyuk continues to lead the Red Wings in scoring. If he can lead the Wings in scoring, he will join Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman as the only players in franchise history to lead the team in scoring for three consecutive seasons. ... Johan Franzen has long been big and strong and defensively responsible. Now, Franzen has added a goal-scoring touch in his third NHL season. With goals in back-to-back wins against Buffalo and St. Louis, Johan scored a career-high of 14 goals.

Nashville -- Martin Erat started this season like he was going to single-handedly replace the departed Paul Kariya's scoring. Then, Erat's production faded. Of late, however, he is once again becoming a

factor with the assistance of newcomer Jan Hlavac. Erat scored three goals March 4 in the Nashville Predators' 5-1 victory at Edmonton to give him a career-high 21 goals. Hlavac, 31, is a former member of the Rangers, Flyers, Canucks, Hurricanes and Lightning, has three points in his first three games with Nashville since being acquired in a deal as for just a seventh-round draft choice. ... After being signed as a free agent in July, goaltender Dan Ellis returned to Dallas Dec. 31 to beat his former team 1-0. On March 1, he went back to Big D and stopped 24 of 25 shots in a 3-1 win to run his record to 11-2-2 since December. However, when Ellis went between the pipes for a third-straight start March 6 at Vancouver, he gave up three goals on just 10 shots and was replaced by Chris Mason. It was the fourth time in the last 10 games that a Nashville goalie had been pulled.

Chicago -- Blackhawks coach Denis Savard says he thinks his young players are beginning to understand that they have to protect the puck better. And thereby reduce the number of turnovers and frustrating penalties. Savard points to the improvement in this area as a major reason why Chicago has three shutouts in its last four home games -- all by different goaltenders. Newcomer Andrew Ladd is making a big splash playing with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Ladd had two goals and an assist and averaged four shots per game in his first four games with the Hawks.

Columbus -- After a stretch that included 16 of 22 games away from Columbus, the Blue Jackets were back at Nationwide Arena for a five-game homestand following a 1-0 loss at Calgary on March 4. ...With the departure of Foote and Fedorov, the Blue Jackets still have three potential unrestricted free agents to deal with before July 1 -- veteran center Michael Peca, and defensemen Ron Hainsey and Jan Hejda. Hainsey and Hejda will probably be re-signed considering that Hainsey has scored or assisted 20 of the Jackets' 46 power-play goals and Hejda leads the Jackets with a plus-12 going into the weekend while playing 21:05 per game.

The week ahead -- Sunday the Predators play the Red Wings in the first of four meetings between the two teams in the final 15 games. The teams have split the first four meetings, with J.P. Dumont and Martin Erat each notching five points for the Predators. ... Chicago has a divisional match up Friday at Columbus and the Blue Jackets have a 3-2 record against Chicago this season.


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