Last stand for Cheek in WHL

Vancouver native hopes injury won't keep him out of final

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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BEAVERTON — A magical conclusion to Trevor Cheek's junior hockey career is still possible.

The Vancouver native might not play on Friday when his Edmonton Oil Kings begin the Western Hockey League championship series against the Portland Winterhawks at the Rose Garden. An injury suffered in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals was painful enough that Cheek did not skate with his teammates on Thursday.

"It's pretty painful right now. Obviously, I'd be out there if I could," Cheek said after the Oil Kings' practice at the Winterhawks Skating Center.

The nature of the injury remains a secret — typical protocol during hockey playoffs to prevent opponents from targeting weak spots. It happened innocently, though.

"It was just a hit I would make a million times in my career. It was just awkward. It caused some discomfort," Cheek said. "Hopefully I can rehab as hard as I can and get back playing as soon as possible."

The good news for Cheek is that this will not be the end of his hockey journey, one that started at Mountain View Ice Arena and took him to Phoenix, Ariz., for two winters before landing in the WHL. Last month, Cheek signed an entry-level contract with the Colorado Avalanche.

That was a nice reward for Cheek, who gave up a promising baseball career — he was an all-league and Columbian all-region player as a sophomore at Camas High School — to focus on hockey. Cheek spent the winter of his sophomore year and all of his junior year in Phoenix playing for an elite youth hockey team.

Cheek might have been on the other side of this finals series. He played well in the Winterhawks' 2009 training camp, but the team had a lot of 1992-born players and decided not to sign him.

Cheek played two seasons with the Calgary Hitmen before numbers again worked against him. To get down to the maximum three 20-year-olds, the Hitmen traded Cheek to the Vancouver Giants early this season. He was with that struggling team until Edmonton acquired Cheek in February at the WHL trade deadline.

"He fit into our dressing room. He fit into our team perfectly," Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal said. "He is a big, strong power forward that skates well and has an NHL shot."

Laxdal said that Oil Kings' coaches had to push Cheek to improve his consistency, but that he responded to become an important second-line contributor who has eight goals and eight assists and ranks ninth in WHL playoff scoring this season.

"He earned himself an NHL contract. I don't think he would have had the opportunity where he was in Vancouver," Laxdal said. "Good for him. He's worked hard for it."

Cheek said signing with the Avalanche was both a confidence boost and a motivating factor in his strong play during these playoffs. So was the fact that he played only five first-round playoff games last season before Calgary was eliminated.

"I love the playoffs. There's nothing like it. It brings out the best in everyone," Cheek said. "This season, I just rose to the occasion."

Laxdal said Cheek will need to work even harder to make it in the NHL. Right now Cheek is just hoping his body lets him help the Oil Kings win a championship. He described watching Tuesday's Game 7 between Edmonton and his former Calgary team in the Eastern Conference finals team as awful.

"But, even though I didn't play, watching my teammates beat them was just as good," Cheek said.

Cheek is trying not to think about the possibility of watching from the Rose Garden stands this weekend. His focus is on helping Edmonton win another title — any way he can.

"I believe in my teammates to play awesome. I'm excited to be a part of this final," he said.