A Matter of Heart – Stefan Cherneski

By Michael Theodore
He was a sure fire NHL player. Not flashy or fancy but a solid, hard
working right winger who drew comparisons to John LeClair from GM Neil Smith.
He was slated as at least a second line NHL player and possibly even a first.
He was seen as a potential 35 goal scorer with the chance to move into the
40’s in his prime years. After a final successful year of junior hockey he
made a splash in the Rangers 1998 Training Camp and was the last player cut
on the last day despite being only 20 years old at the time. But that was the
beginning of a very stressful and painful two years in the life of Stefan
Cherneski, one he hopes to put in the past by making the Rangers this season
in what might end as one of the greatest hockey triumph stories ever told.

Stefan Cherneski was a solid prospect. Maybe not one that could claim to
be one of the top ten or so in the league but one that had the potential to
carve out a meaningful career. A surprise during the 1998 pre-season he came
within a skate blade of making the team. Beaten out by a 31 year old
journeyman named Brent Fedyk, Cherneski returned to Hartford determined to
make the team. That dream came crashing to a halt in a game against New
Haven when Cherneski was checked along the boards and his knee shattered into
7 pieces. Just to give you an idea of its severity, doctors weren’t sure if
Stefan would ever walk again properly let alone play hockey professionally.
After rehabbing the knee for six months, Stefan received further devastation
when it was learned his knee had not healed properly and that it would need to
be broken again in order to correct the problem. The end result was two lost
years of professional hockey in which Cherneski was almost destined to stick
with the club at some point.

It was upon his return that Stefan saw his stock drop. Surpassed on the
depth chart by prospects including Jamie Lundmark, Pavel Brendl and Manny
Malhotra, Cherneski was almost in a sort of limbo. Always a hard worker,
Stefan had to work exceptionally hard at getting into peak physical
condition. He worked out constantly with Adam Graves, Pavel Brendl and Jamie
Lundmark. You knew he was a hard worker when he had a work ethic that rivaled
Adam Graves. The fact of the matter is that Stefan’s work ethic has always
been top notch and was never in question. Before the 1998 training camp he
hired a personal trainer who attached a tire to his waist and told him to run
with it dragging behind him!

I stated in several past articles that if Cherneski can make it back it
will be because of his work ethic and sheer heart and now we watch as the
2000-2001 season begins and there is Stefan banging right on the door again
and earning praises from coach Ron Low. The loss of two years might prevent
Stefan in the long run from becoming the player he could have been but it
won’t prevent him from being a very valuable player. Despite everything he
has defied every skeptic, and has
shown that sometimes the most important muscle in hockey is the heart. Still
a capable power forward, the 6’1 200 pound Cherneski should contribute as a
solid and versatile winger similar to Adam Graves. The comparison is fitting
of Stefan both as a player and an individual.