It was a night of accomplishments in Phoenix Monday night when the Sharks defeated the Coyotes by the score of 3-2. Jonathan Cheechoo reached the 50 goal plateau with his second period tally, becoming just the 84th NHL player to accomplish that feat.
But Cheechoo wouldn’t settle for just 50. 44 seconds later, the Moose Factory native notched yet another goal. The goal ended up being the game winning goal, giving Cheechoo his 10th game winner of the season and his League leading 19th game winner since the beginning of the 2003-04 season.
“It was a nice feeling,” said Cheechoo of his 50th goal. “Not a lot of guys have reached it so it’s pretty special. I just have to thank my teammates because they’ve helped out a lot this year. It’s partly because of them that I reached 50.”
The scoring sequence came after two penalties were called on Phoenix. First Jamie Rivers was called for hooking, and then 33 seconds later Joel Perrault was sent to the box for delay of game after sending a puck over the glass.
There was question of whether the Coyotes committed the second penalty leading up to Cheechoo’s big moment. The officials took extra time in calling the delay of game penalty, allowing Team Teal to catch their breath a bit and enabling them to come back with some extra hop in their step.
“We knew we had to take advantage because we thought they may even out the calls once in a while, so it was good timing,” said Cheechoo. “Anytime you can get a little rest it helps and it energizes you a bit. It probably helped us when play resumed.”
After Cheechoo’s goal was recorded, the Glendale Arena was silenced, much different then it would have been last night in San Jose.
“I wish we would have been able to have it happen at home last night and let our crowd get into it, but the fact that he’s done it is an incredible achievement,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. “Obviously it’s great for Cheech, but the key is that it won the game. It’s been great fun to watch.”
Another guy who had a little hand in Cheechoo reaching the 50 goal milestone is a guy named Joe Thornton
. Since his arrival on Dec. 2, Thornton has assisted on 34 of Cheechoo’s 44 goals. And no one was happier than Joe to see his linemate get his 50th.
“He dove into the net for it,” said Cheechoo of Thornton getting the puck for his personal collection. “That was pretty cool of him. We’ve seemed to connect since he’s gotten here. It was nice for him to get the assist on it too.”
“It was a tough night, but we’re happy we got the two points and we’re happy for Cheech that he scored his 50th,” said Thornton.
Back home at Moose Factory, you can be assured that the whole Cree Nation is celebrating the pride of their town’s accomplishment.
“Everyone has been watching up there,” added Cheechoo. “They all have dishes. There’s one guy up there that used to buy just Flyer’s games, but now he’s switched to just San Jose games.”
Now that 50 has been reached, Cheechoo may have his eyes on yet another prize; the NHL scoring title. With his two goals tonight, Cheechoo tied Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk for second in the League in goals, putting him just three behind Jaromir Jagr. But the right winger assures that there has never been any pressure to score goals and that there’s only one goal he’s working towards, and that’s winning.
“I never really put any pressure on myself to get it, I just want to help the team win,” he said. “If I get goals, that’s a bonus. Every win now is huge. We’re battling for the last three or four playoff spots, so it’s something that we just have to come ready to play everyday. You can’t take any night off.”
For Coach Wilson, Cheechoo’s rise to becoming an elite goal scorer caught him off guard a little bit.
“When I came to San Jose, I never would have thought that Cheech would be a 50 goal scorer,” said Wilson. “I thought I’d be looking at a great third line grinder with some upside who could score a bit. We saw that last year, but I never anticipated 50 goals, that’s for sure. He’s the fourth guy that I’ve coached to get 50 goals. Peter Bondra, Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne have all done it for me before, and what all four of those guys have in common is they want to score so bad. They go to the net hard and they live to see the red light go on.”
Not to be lost in the 50 goal hype is the feat that Patrick Marleau
accomplished tonight along side Cheechoo. On Cheechoo’s second goal, the teammates both collected their 85th point of the season, surpassing Owen Nolan for the single season franchise record in points.
“Me and Cheech got it at the same time, so that was great,” said Marleau. “It feels good, but it made it that much better that it was the game-winning goal that we both got it on.”
The tone that Marleau carried in the locker room, however, spoke volumes about the Captain, as he shrugged off questions about his own feat and focused more on Cheechoo’s accomplishment and the team’s win.
“It’s been unbelievable to watch,” said Marleau. “Just to see those two (Cheechoo and Thornton) working out there, along with Ek, it’s been great. Whenever we need a big lift, those guys go over the boards and they’ve been doing it game in and game out.”
With four games left in the 2005-06 season, only time will tell how many goals Cheechoo will amass. But at the rate he’s going, if my name were Jagr, I’d be looking in my rear view mirror a bit.