Sporting a shiny black hat typically reserved for firemen, Kyle Chipchura emerged from the Prince Albert Raiders dressing room all smiles.
After helping lead the Raiders over the Calgary Hitmen in a shootout on Friday, it was Chipchura’s turn to wear the hat proudly.
“It just goes to a hard-working guy, an unsung hero type of thing, kind of like here with the Calgary Flames,” said a beaming Chipchura. “There might’ve been some other better choices, but I got it tonight.”
It is likely that it isn’t he first time that the center has worn the hat.
Despite missing nearly a month of the season, Chipchura is poised to the lead the Raiders in scoring, registering year-to-date totals this season of 33 assists and 52 points in 56 games, three points ahead of undrafted forward Mike Hellyer.
Although his point totals are impressive, Chipchura has been disappointed with his season offensively, but offered that his primary concern when he’s on the ice isn’t scoring.
“I like to think of myself as an all-around player who takes care of the little things first, and it seems like I do that and fall back on the stats after,” said the Raiders captain. “I’ve been in a slump to start off the year, but it’s a long year and you can’t get down too much on it. I sure would like to have a few more goals and a few more points.”
Perhaps Chipchura is more pleased with the fact that he’s been able to keep himself healthy this season.
“I haven’t had a healthy year for a while, for the last couple of years at least,” admitted the Montreal Canadiens first rounder. “To finally get to play throughout the whole year is definitely huge.”
Chipchura lost most of last season after suffering a freak Achilles injury, which was sliced with a skate in practice just before the Canadian Junior Development Camp, which was selecting the 2005 edition of Team Canada that eventually went on to win Canada’s first gold in nearly a decade.
Despite missing the camp last year, Chipchura wasn’t devastated by the injury.
“I think last year they had a really good team and I always thought I had another year,” said the 6’3, 208lb forward.
This year, Chipchura was especially careful leading into the Christmas season, and was not only named to the 2006 edition of Team Canada, but also wore the ‘C’ on his chest, being given the captaincy by returning head coach Brent Sutter.
“There was a great group of guys there and I was real honored and real proud to be captain of that team,” admitted Chipchura. “To get the chance this year and to do it on home ice and to repeat and win a gold medal, I don’t think it can get any sweeter. It’s something I’ll always have – a gold medal – and wearing a letter for Team Canada.”
While captaining the national team is often a once-in-a-lifetime chance, Chipchura’s firehat-wearing days will soon be over.
That’s because Friday’s game at Calgary could very well be his last with the team.
With Prince Albert unable to clinch a berth in this year’s Western Hockey League playoffs, Chipchura likely has but three games remaining in his major junior career.
Although he’s unsigned, Chipchura, 20, is expected to play for either the Canadiens or their American Hockey League affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs next season. Montreal’s first big task in getting the hulking center closer to home is to have him put his ink on a contract.
“(It’s) something that I’ll let my agent take care of,” said the 18th overall selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, opting instead to concern himself with the business at hand with his Prince Albert Raiders.
Because the Raiders have been eliminated from postseason play, Chipchura is, however, able to sign an amateur try-out contract with the Hamilton Bulldogs without signing directly with the Montreal Canadiens.
It’s a move similar to that made by currently Philadelphia Flyer forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, who joined the Philadelphia Phantoms at the conclusion of their OHL seasons last year. Carter and Richards went on to help the Phantoms win the Calder Cup.
Chipchura admitted that he’d heard talk of it.
“You hear rumblings of it, but you try not to look too far ahead,” he said.
For now, self-described two-way player will take the time to look back and reflect on an impressive four-year junior career in which he accumulated 57 goals, 163 points and 313 minutes in penalties over 213 games.
And while the Prince Albert Raiders’ season may very well be over, with 13 more games to go in Hamilton’s season, it could turn out that Kyle Chipchura’s has another chapter to be written.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.