Chucko aspires to stop blending in soon

Mike Mullen

Go ahead. Forget about Kris Chucko.

Chucko, a highly touted freshman wing on Minnesota’s men’s hockey team, has done more blending in than standing out in his first three games with the Gophers, tallying a single assist.

But coach Don Lucia would like nothing more than if WCHA teams assumed Chucko will not be a factor on this team – just another former junior hockey standout who couldn’t cut it in college.

“Most freshmen, including (Chucko), are going through an adjustment period right now,” Lucia said. “I think he’s going to develop over the next couple months, and then after Christmas, he’s going to take off.”

And, if you’ve even begun to write off Chucko, Lucia might know something you don’t.

It seems that Chucko, who played junior hockey the last two seasons in the British Columbia Hockey League, has gone through a similar period of adjustment and came out on top before.

In his first year with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, Chucko – then 16 years old – was a player of “tremendous potential,” said Garry Davidson, Silverbacks owner and general manager. But it still took Chucko time to get used to the league.

“I think it took Kris 10 or 11 games to get into it,” Davidson said. “In fact, it might have even taken him that long to get a goal. Then in January, and February, and the playoffs, he just blew up.”

Chucko was so impressive that he was named the team’s captain the next year. His play last season – 32 goals and 55 assists in 53 games – led the Calgary Flames to draft him with the 24th overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

Chucko also racked up 161 minutes in the penalty box, a number not even that impressive in the penalty-laden BCHL. In fact, two of Chucko’s Salmon Arm teammates spent more than 350 minutes in the box.

“(Fighting) is a part of the junior game and the pro game,” Chucko said. “But I think that now you have to be able to play hockey – there’s only a handful of players who just go around looking for a fight.”

Davidson said Chucko did well in the BCHL’s style of play, but “he can play whatever game you throw at him.”

The college game is faster than junior hockey, Chucko said, and the players are more skilled.

And stronger.

“Last year, I was usually one of the stronger guys on the ice,” the 6-foot-2-inch 200-pounder said. “But (college players) are a lot stronger than what I’m used to. It’s like playing against cement.”

And strength is paramount to Chucko’s role as the power forward on the second line with sophomores Danny Irmen and Ryan Potulny.

“(Chucko) is not the type of flashy player who’s going to try moves to score,” Lucia said. “He’s a tough kid who’s going to work against the boards and in front of the net. Kris is going to be a really good player for us.”

And if anyone forgets that? Well, that’s their loss.

Stevens named captain

Senior defenseman Judd Stevens was named Minnesota’s team captain Tuesday, thanks to a team vote Monday. Senior forwards Barry Tallackson and Jake Fleming and junior defenseman Chris Harrington will assist Stevens, who has a team-best 131 games under his belt with the Gophers.