Last season, Chuck Kobasew made a big impact by scoring five goals in the pre-season for the Calgary Flames. Since Kobasew and his agent were unable to come to terms on a contract with the Flames organization at the time, the budding prospect had to put his aspirations of playing in the National Hockey League on hold for another year.
This year, it’s a different story. The 20-year-old has a contract in hand and is once again making an impact in the pre-season for the Flames. After a three-day training camp in Banff, Kobasew returned to the Pengrowth Saddledome ice and received a big ovation when he scored during the Flames Intra-Squad Game in support of the United Way on Sept. 19.
After the game, Hockey’s Future caught up with the former Kelowna Rocket sniper who scored 41 goals during his first season in the Western Hockey League, just one year after helping his Boston College Eagles win a National Collegiate Athletic Association Frozen Four championship title.
Hockey’s Future: The fans seemed to remember you. I think you got the biggest ovation when you scored. Do you think they were remembering back to last year when you scored five goals in the pre-season for the Flames?
Chuck Kobasew: I don’t know. I wasn’t really listening. If that’s the case, it’s nice. It’s just nice to get one in the game and get off to a good start. The first test is going to be the pre-season and just getting off to a good start and just getting on a roll and hopefully continuing that throughout the season.
HF: How’s training camp been going for you? Have you been feeling pretty fit and ready to go?
CK: Yeah, I’ve done everything I can all summer to prepare myself for the camp and I feel in pretty good shape. I’m just looking forward to the road ahead.
HF: You had a great pre-season last year. How are you going to build upon that this year?
CK: Last year went great. I’ve just got to learn from what I had last year in juniors with the travel and playing more games and stuff I picked up there. Hopefully I can add that to my game up here.
HF: Do you think you’re going to be able to repeat on the success you had last pre-season?
CK: It’s tough to say. I’ll take it game by game. You just want to go out there and play your best. When you set goals, you don’t set numbers. You just set goals based on where you want to be and I want to be a part of the organization when the camp’s over with. That’s the goal I set.
HF: Last year was a bit different because you headed into camp and you didn’t have a signed contract. This year you do, so how does that feel?
CK: It’s weight off my shoulders. It doesn’t mean that you’re on the team. There’s still a long way to go. The camp’s going to be a big part of where you’re going to fit and where you’ll be at the start of our season.
HF: You went through a year playing at Boston College and then a year playing major junior with the Kelowna Rockets. Can you comment on how each of the levels has prepared you to make the jump to playing professionally?
CK: In college, I was playing with a great team there and some great players that have moved on to pro. I learned a lot from those guys. I learned a lot about the style of play there and just playing against some older players that were physically stronger.
HF: And winning a national championship in 2001 was a bonus.
CK: Yeah, winning is something that you’d always like to have and I learned a lot from that. Then in the Western Hockey League, you played more games and got used to the travel – a lot of hours on the bus. The red line was back as a factor and the ice rinks were usually smaller, so I learned a lot from both.
HF: You were drafted at 19 after a year of college, unlike many players who opt to go the Major Junior route and are eligible to be drafted at 18. Can you comment on whether you think they should raise the draft age to 19 from 18?
CK: I looked at it as … during my 18-year-old season that’s where (scouts) watched me and that’s when they drafted me. I think the system’s fine the way it is. It works both ways – if you want to go to play college, you can get that extra year. If you don’t want to and you want to play in the Western Hockey League, you get drafted a year earlier. It all depends what you want to do and what league you want to play in.
HF: Were you happy with the route you decided to go?
CK: I’ve got no regrets going to college and then jumping to the Western Hockey League.
HF: You got the best of both worlds.
CK: Yeah, you can play in both leagues. I know that if I had made the decision to go to the Western Hockey League first, college would have been out the scene. Since I went to college first, I was able to do both.
HF: Having the opportunity to play for the Canadian World Junior Team as well, that had to be a bit of a bonus for you too in your preparation. How has that helped you in your development?
CK: That’s an experience I’ll never forget. It’s international competition playing for your country. It’s one of the biggest privileges you can have as a hockey player. It’s a style of game that I think was closer to the college game – more wide open and with the international rules. I learned a lot there just playing with great players and playing against the best players from every country.
HF: What are you looking forward to the most about your first professional game?
CK: I’m not looking forward. It would be great if I was there, but you can’t look too far forward. There’s still the rest of the pre-season ahead. You’ve got to do well to make the regular season games.