Freshman power forward and Calgary Flames prospect Kris Chucko enjoyed an outstanding season at the University of Minnesota, helping to lead the Golden Gophers to their 19th Frozen Four appearance in the team’s history.
The Burnaby, BC native, one of only two Canadians on this season’s team roster, played in all 44 games for Minnesota this season. He led all Gophers rookies in scoring with 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists).
Hockey’s Future spoke with Chucko after Minnesota’s practice on Wednesday at the Schottenstein Center during the Frozen Four.
HF: You’ve played with a variety of players this season, but the two that you seem to be clicking really well with are Gino Guyer (DAL) and Barry Tallackson (NJ). What it’s like for you to play with them?
KC: It’s great. Obviously Barry is a bigger guy like me and we’re able to go down low and control a little bit more down low. Gino plays a same sort of style that’s rough and tough, it’s kind of suited my style a little bit better.
HF: You’ve also spent some time playing with Ryan (Potulny) and Danny (Irmen). How is your role on a line with Ryan and Danny different from the one with Gino and Barry?
KC: With Ryan and Danny, they’re both very, very skilled. You have to get to the net because they’re going to have the puck and put it there. My role is to get to the net and make things happen down low. With Gino and Barry it’s more of a cycling game. It gets me more in the play and gets me the puck a little more. We work more as a threesome cycling rather than like fancy passing (laughs).
HF: You really thrive on the physical game and with the NCAA’s crackdown on the obstructions this year that seem to target players who excel at the physical game, has that been a problem for you?
KC: Not really because it’s more of a hitting and go type of game. I think the crackdown has been more on the hooking and stuff. I don’t think the physical game has hurt me much except maybe on the bigger ice surface where you can’t really get caught trying to hit someone as much and have a long ways to go to get back (into position).
HF: You came to Minnesota from Salmon Arm of the BCHL and played really well there. How has the adjustment from the BCHL to the NCAA been for you?
KC: It’s been a big adjustment as an 18-year-old. The speed of the game is so much faster and the guys are a lot stronger. In the BCHL I was playing with like 20-year-olds and here, well, I’m playing with one guy who is 26. Last year, I could hit and the guys were smaller and I had the advantage. Here if you’re going to hit someone smaller, you better be able to hit because they’re all strong. It’s definitely a lot faster and a lot stronger here and you have to do everything at a faster pace.
HF: What do you feel was the one most difficult aspect of the college game to adjust to?
KC: For me this season, it was keeping my feet moving. Last year I could go to a guy, lean on him and keep my feet still to be able to get muscle. This year I can’t outmuscle or physically outmatch them, so I have to keep my feet moving. I have to try and get some speed advantage on them (opposing players) so that I can get an inch on them before I start to lean on them.
HF: As far as the styles of play differences are concerned, what has been the biggest adjustment for you personally between the two of them?
KC: It would be the skating game. The BCHL plays sort of like a North Dakota style game where you play on an NHL-sized rink as well as dump the puck in and cycle a little bit more. It’s also a little bit tighter. Here at Minnesota, everything is go, go, go and you don’t turn the puck back as much going up the ice. The speed of the game has been a big adjustment for me coming out of the BCHL. The knock on me was my skating, but that was the reason why I came here. Minnesota forces me to become a better skater.
HF: Being a Canadian, did you ever think about going the Canadian major junior route?
KC: When I was drafted at 14, I was kind of excited. I went to Salmon Arm at 16 because I figured that if I went to the BCHL I would be in the lineup a lot and have more time to develop. Going to the BCHL at 16 kind of allowed me to keep my options open for a year. I knew that guys like Brady Murray in North Dakota and (Adrian) Veideman in Denver played with Salmon Arm. I saw that they got scholarships and all and that sort of opened my eyes to the college game. When Minnesota began talking to me and recruiting me, I made the trip here (Minnesota) and saw this place, I knew this is where I wanted to be.
HF: With some of your former Salmon Arm teammates such as Travis Zajac at North Dakota that are also currently playing in the NCAA, has that made your adjustment either on or off the ice a little easier for you?
KC: Yeah, a little bit. I talk to (Travis) every once in a while, but the main thing is that it’s been easy for me with the guys in our (Minnesota) room. Before I came here to Minnesota, I was told that there weren’t any Canadians here or that they didn’t treat Canadians right. When I came down here, I noticed that it was just the opposite. I’ve enjoyed myself so much here and everyone’s treated me really well.
HF: What else about Minnesota that attracted you to come here?
KC: Well you want to play for a Championship and play for a winner every year and that’s the biggest reason why I came here. They’ve got a pretty rich history of doing that. The bigger rink at Mariucci forces me to become a better skater. The style that they play here is not a boring style of hockey. Like in the BCHL, I could play somewhere else on an NHL-sized rink and play the rough and tough style but here it forces me to work on my skills and make me more of an all-around player.
HF: With Mariucci being so huge, do you feel that the bigger rink has definitely been an adjustment for you?
KC: Definitely. When you’re told that you’re not a very good skater to begin with it makes the rink seem a little bigger (laughs). I definitely feel it’s helping me to make great improvements in my skating. Being a freshman here at the beginning of the year obviously you’re going to struggle but as the season has gone along I’ve been able to adjust, especially playing on such as a large rink as Mariucci. I feel comfortable now and things are just going to keep getting better.
HF: When you found out that the Calgary Flames had drafted you, what was your initial reaction?
KC: It was awesome and felt pretty neat for me, especially since it was a Canadian-based team. I didn’t know if I was going to go in the first round or second round because of the quality of many of the other players, so it was pretty exciting to hear my name called. It was kind of a surprise to me when I heard my name called early. The style of game that they play in Calgary kind of fits my style of play. Obviously being here at Minnesota I feel that I can develop here and then one day move on.
HF: Have you had any contact with the Flames at all this season?
KC: A little bit. Darryl (Sutter) has been to a couple of games since there’s no NHL right now. I just say hello and that’s really about it. They’re pretty much hands off and they know that I’m just a freshman here at Minnesota and have a long way to go so they just let me play here.
HF: Have you been to one of their prospects camps?
KC: Yes. I was there for four days this last summer. Hopefully they’ll have another one this summer because I really enjoyed it. It was great to meet the staff and all of the other prospects. It was a real eye opener for me because there are a lot of good players out there. That signaled to me that I needed to work that much harder here. It is something that I need to work towards now rather than later. Hopefully one day it happens.
HF: What was the one thing that you’ve gotten out of the camp?
KC: Definitely how stronger the guys are and how hard they work. It’s a bit of an eye opener because you’re not just looking at other prospects you’re also looking at other (pro) guys trying to make it up into the NHL. You see how hard they work. They don’t take a day off from the gym. It doesn’t come easy. It may look easy on the ice but you definitely have to work for it.
HF: Comparing the guys that you play with here at Minnesota and the guys that you saw at the Prospects camp, what were some of the similarities and differences between the two?
KC: The similarities are that they’re all good players. The differences are that in the Prospects Camp, many of them are from the WHL. They play a defensive style that’s a hard checking, cycle game and they’re very fast. You have to keep your feet moving with them to keep up. Here, they’re not all 6’2/220 lbs. Here it’s a more up-tempo, more (wide open) skating and tighter checking game.
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