In the 2005/2006 NHL season, San Jose Sharks forward Jonathan Cheechoo made the jump from an average player to superstar status.
Following a strong OHL 1997/1998 rookie season where Cheechoo scored 76 points (31 goals and 45 assists) with the Belleville Bulls, this right winger from Moose Factory Ontario was selected that summer 29th overall in the NHL entry draft by San Jose.
Prior to Cheechoo’s breakout campaign, his previous high was 47 points (28 goals, 19 assists) in 2003/2004 with San Jose, but two years later, he developed some strong chemistry on a line with elite playmaker Joe Thornton. Playing much of the season with Thornton, this right winger erupted in the 2005/2006 campaign with a franchise best 56 goals to capture the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, which is awarded to the league’s best goal scorer.
Along with becoming the seventh player to officially win this award, Cheechoo, who is a member of the Cree First Nations, became the second aboriginal player to hit the 50- goal plateau, with Hockey Hall of Famer Reggie Leach being the first.
Cheechoo had a strong finish to the year, as he tallied 11 goals in the final 10 games, which included his fifth hattrick, in becoming only the third player in Sharks franchise history to win a major award. During what was truly a breakout season, this 25 -year-old proved clutch as he ranked number one in game winning goals with 11. He also loved playing at home and games within his division as he led the NHL with 31 goals on home ice along with ranking number one with 29 tallies against divisional teams. Other historic achievements from Cheechoo that season include becoming the first player since former Pittsburgh Penguins captain Mario Lemieux to register five or more hattricks in a campaign. Lemieux, who of course is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, accomplished that feat in 1995/96, when he achieved six hattricks.
Affectionately known as ‘Cheech,’ other accomplishments which came his way from that magical 2005/2006 season include finishing on top of the Play Station “Three Stars of the Game Award, where he ended up being named one of the three stars for 23 of the 82 regular season games played.
During the season, Cheechoo’s stellar play got notice as he was named “Sharks player of the Month” for November and January. Not surprisingly Cheechoo was selected for the mid-season NHL all-star game which was played in Dallas.
Unfortunately for the 6- foot 200 -pound power forward, as time went on, his numbers started to sharply decline.
The following season he had a more than respectable 37 goal, 69- point season and an impressive +11 as his popularity in the Bay Area was still very high. The numbers however continued to decrease as he went from 69 points to only 37 (23 goals, 14 assists) in 2007-08 followed a year later with only 12 goals and 29 points.
Getting a fresh start, Cheechoo was in September 2009 part of a deal which sent him to the Ottawa Senators where in the 2009/2010 season he finished up his NHL career by scoring five goals and 14 points in 61 regular season games.
Following several years in the American Hockey League and Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Cheechoo officially retired from hockey in 2018.
“I have been privileged to be able to reach my goals and to play the game that I love,” Cheechoo said in a statement upon retiring. “Hockey has taken me from Moose Factory to San Jose and many places around the world.”