Cheek making an impact with Hitmen

Camas native improves in second WHL season

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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There were 23 goals and 26 assists. There was the playoff hat trick, production that reflects Trevor Cheek’s improvement as a hockey player.

But the best evidence that the Camas native has arrived as a member of the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen came at the end of his second season in the league.

Cheek, a 19-year-old, won the Hitman booster club’s fan favorite award.

“Probably because I celebrate so hard after my goals,” Cheek said, trying to explain why an American is so popular in hockey crazy Calgary.

Cheek had plenty to celebrate in his second season with the Hitmen, beginning with a short preseason invitation to the San Jose Sharks training camp. With confidence bolstered by those four days, Cheek established himself at left wing on Calgary’s top line and earned assignments on the power play and penalty kill.

Calgary had the worst record in the WHL in 2010-11, which made Cheek’s first winter in Canada especially challenging. Safe to say, this season was a big improvement all around. The Hitmen won 44 games and finished third overall in the Eastern Conference. Losing to Brandon in five games was an unexpected disappointment, Cheek said.

Cheek said the biggest change in his second season in the WHL was his improved confidence.

“Probably just being a lot more confident with the puck,” he said, assessing his season. “Playing with good players and having more confidence in myself and realizing that I was one of the better skaters and could really use that to my advantage.”

In addition to playing on the top scoring line alongside right wing Jimmy Bubnick and center Cody Sylvester, Cheek played the point on the power play and a forward spot on the penalty killing unit. In that role, he scored four goals short-handed — one more than his three power-play goals.

“I just really love playing the penalty kill,” Cheek said. “I like how much open ice there is and how I can skate when the other team’s not really expecting it.”

Cheek expects to play one more season in the WHL before moving into professional hockey. He is one of six players on the Hitmen roster who will be 20 years old next season. WHL teams are allowed only three 20-year-olds, so Cheek will be competing for a roster spot.

“They just told me, ‘Have a good summer and come back and compete for a job,’ ” Cheek said.

“It makes me feel old,” Cheek said of approaching his final season of junior hockey. “I’m running out of time, but I’m hoping to have a really good season next year and keep playing after that.”

With that in mind, Cheek will spend his summer training either in Calgary, or in Phoenix where he played for two seasons with one of the top youth hockey programs in the United States, which is sponsored by P.F. Chang’s.

Come August, another invitation to an NHL training camp would be welcome. Last summer, Cheek scored a goal in one preseason scrimmage with the Sharks.

“It was kind of a shock to look in the mirror with an NHL jersey on,” Cheek said. “It was pretty awesome.”

Though the Sharks didn’t give Cheek a contract, they did say they would keep watching his development. The Sharks coaches suggested he work on being stronger with his stick, and told him that his combination of size (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) and speed are made to play power forward.

In August of 2009, Cheek participated in the Portland Winterhawks training camp. Had Portland not been loaded with 1992-born players — including forwards Brad Ross and Taylor Peters — Cheek might have had a shot to play at home.

Cheek returned to Camas sooner than he wanted to this season. Despite his three goals in Calgary’s Game 2 win, the Hitmen fell to Brandon in five games in the first playoff round.

“We thought we could go deep in the playoffs, so it’s pretty disappointing to go out in the first round like that,” Cheek said. “But it’s good experience for all of us for next year.”

These days, a different experience is helping fuel Cheek’s commitment. At the urging of his father, Brian, Trevor Cheek has attended several Winterhawks playoff games since returning home. But his enthusiasm for Portland’s playoff run is tempered by his desire to be on the ice himself.

“I didn’t like watching,” he said.