The last visit to Portland was defined by frustration for Trevor Cheek.
In his final season of junior hockey, the Clark County native was toiling away for a Vancouver Giants team that has its sights set a couple of years down the road.
The scenario is certainly different on Wednesday, When Cheek rolls into Portland as part of the second best team in the Western Hockey League.
On Jan. 9, the 20-year-old left winger was traded for the second time this season, moving from the Giants to the Edmonton Oil Kings. It was the kind of move a player in his final WHL season craves: leaving a rebuilding team for one contending for the Memorial Cup.
“Just getting back to winning again,” Cheek said, explaining the best aspect of the trade to Edmonton. “It’s a good feeling to be part of such a good team and to know that any night you have a great chance of winning.”
Edmonton, which last spring defeated Portland in a seven-game series for the WHL championship, leads the WHL’s Eastern Conference. The Oil Kings improved to 44-15-2-1 with a win Tuesday over Seattle.
The Winterhawks (51-10-1-2) are the best team in the WHL and the top rated team in all of major junior hockey, making Wednesday’s clash a once-a-season showdown.
Cheek has eight goals and nine assists through 23 games with the Oil Kings, not adding to either total in Tuesday’s win over the Thunderbirds. Through 63 games this season, Cheek has 26 goals and 24 assists. In one of his first games with Edmonton, Cheek scored three goals in a win over Moose Jaw.
“It was not one of the prettiest hat tricks you’ll ever see,” Cheek said.
At Edmonton, Cheek has mostly played alongside 19-year-old center Michael St. Croix and 20-year-old right winger T.J. Foster.
“They’re both really skilled players and make it easy to play with them,” Cheek said. “I just try to work hard and let them do the fancy stuff.”
Cheek, 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, uses his speed and physical nature to win puck battles on the forecheck. But, he is also pleased to see his plus-minus at plus-16 with Edmonton. In Vancouver, with less experienced teammates, the defensive side of Cheek’s productivity suffered.
“I had a good time in Van(couver),” Cheek said. “It was a good group of guys and a good organization.”
While with the Giants, who have the league’s worst record, he was asked to be a vocal leader and help guide a young team through a difficult season. With the Oil Kings, Cheek can lead by example — taking care of his responsibilities every day.
In addition to hope for chasing a championship, the trade to Edmonton reunited Cheek with friend Henrik Samuelson. Cheek and Samuelson were teammates on the PF Chang’s under-17 elite midget hockey team before moving to the WHL. That friendship, along with the experience of being traded for the second time in three months, helped Cheek acclimate to the new environment.
“It was really easy to fit in. They treated me well right from the start here,” Cheek said.
Edmonton is the rival of the Calgary Hitmen team for which Cheek played in his first two WHL seasons. He said while being on the other side of the Alberta rivalry was “a little bit different,” the players are treated extremely well in Edmonton.
Cheek will be too old for junior hockey a year from now. He hopes to be playing professionally somewhere. Contributing for a team that goes deep into the playoffs would be a great way to improve those opportunities.
“Being on a winning team is big for that,” Cheek said. “My focus is on our team and helping us go as far as we can in the playoffs. Whatever happens to me will be a bonus.”