Donald Choukalos is backstopping his way to a career year as the starting goaltender for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League. With 39 games under his belt, he’s posted a respectable 3.44 GAA and 2 shutouts. Choukalos admits he got off to a bit of a slow start to this season, but part of that has to be attributed to the team he had in front of him. With the recent additions the Regina Pats have made to bolster their lineup in anticipation of hosting the Memorial Cup this year, and with Choukalos’ own continuing development, he is positioned to have a golden opportunity to really shine in this major tournament and get his stock soaring as he battles to move his way up the Bruins depth chart in the nets.
Choukalos was the Bruins sixth choice, picked 179th overall in the 1999 draft. When asked for the highlight of his career so far, he didn’t need to think long before answering “just getting drafted.” In a way it was a bit of a surprise choice on the Bruins part in that they had just drafted OHL goaltender Seamus Kotyk with their previous pick and had drafted Andrew Raycroft the year before. Choukalos said he didn’t know that the Bruins were seriously interested in him, “they only talked to me once the day before the draft.” Perhaps it would have been just a little more of a dream come true if he had followed former Calgary Hitman teammate Brent Krahn to getting drafted by the Flames since he was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. It isn’t in the fates though for an NHL hopeful to always be able to play for the team he grew up chearing though.
Choukalos did manage to get to play all his junoir developmental hockey in the Calgary area and had the positive experience of playing in the Mac’s Major Midget tournament which is a real major deal with teams from all over that compete in it. Playing in Calgary also allowed Donald to become very good friends with another name that may be familiar with many fans of the Bruins. He grew up with, attended school with, and played all his developmental hockey with Kyle Wanvig.
Choukalos has been in contact with representatives of the Bruins a few times this season when they have come to evaluate his progress. “So far there hasn’t been any serious contract offers,” said Choukalos. “It’s not really my job, my agent will talk to them and rectify the situation.”
He was a little modest explaining how his second training camp went last fall, and was amazed at how much faster the NHL is from junior hockey. “The big difference is the speed. I’ve mostly just been to summer camp type stuff before. It took a little while to get going.” When asked what he felt he needed to work on, “angles, they told me to work on my angles and to keep on my feet.”
Keeping on his feet would seem the key to me too as Choukalos has impressive size at 6’3 and covers a lot of the net when he is upright. For comparative purpose I asked Choukalos if he had a favorite player he patterned himself after and while he didn’t consciously try to copy anyone, he did tell me that one NHL goaltender who he has heard himself compared to in style is Mike Dunham of the Nashville Predators.
As mentioned Choukalos did play his developmental hockey in Calgary and was drafted into the WHL by the hometown Hitman. While getting traded away from the hitmen had to have been a bit of a mixed blessing at best, since it took him away from home for the first time, it has now afforded him the opportunity to join a developing team to increase his ice time without needing to compete with Calgary Flame first round pick, Brent Krahn, and also get a guaranteed opportunity to play in the Memorial Cup. “I’m looking forward to it. We struggled a bit this year but have made some good moves to get stronger now and have a chance.”
A young goaltender’s trip to the NHL is usually a bit of a journey and often has one or two stops along the way in various developmental leagues. To expect Choukalos to be in the NHL anytime soon may be a little impractical. He has the right attitude to work on what he has to try to improve to make the journey. While the Bruins are currently a little log jammed with a couple young goaltenders who have already made it to the show for some NHL experience, we have learned through some unfortunate injury situations this year how opportunities can open up when we least expect it. Choukalos may have the odds stacked against him a little to be starring in the NHL within the next few years, but never say never.