Cholowski liv­ing up to the hype

The Prince George Citizen - - SPORTS - Ted CLARKE Cit­i­zen staff

Den­nis Cholowski is do­ing ex­actly what the Detroit Red Wings want him to do.

The team that picked him 20th over­all in the 2016 NHL draft wanted the 19-yearold de­fence­man to play a sea­son in the West­ern Hockey League with the Prince Ge­orge Cougars to stim­u­late his cre­ativ­ity on the blue­line and gen­er­ate of­fence.

Look­ing at his point to­tals through six games since his re­turn af­ter three pre­sea­son games with the Wings, Cholowski ap­pears to be ac­ing his WHL test.

He’s scored three goals and has five as­sists for eight points, which puts him third in Cougars’ scor­ing head­ing into tonight’s game against the Kam­loops Blaz­ers (7 p.m. start), the start of a two-game set this week­end at CN Cen­tre. He’s got at least one point in all six games he’s played.

“It’s been great, I would say it’s been a lit­tle bit of tran­si­tion from pro but I think I’ve coped with it pretty well and we’re go­ing good,” said Cholowski, who set up Kody McDon­ald’s sec­ond of three goals in Tues­day’s 7-1 win over the Cal­gary Hit­men.

“Kody’s been play­ing great in both ends of the ice and you al­ways love hav­ing him out there. I love giv­ing him the puck, know­ing you’re ei­ther go­ing to get it back or it’s go­ing to be a good scor­ing chance. Be­ing out there with that line (McDon­ald, Jared Bethune and Jack­son Lep­pard) is a lot of fun.”

Now an as­sis­tant cap­tain with the Cougars, Cholowski may well turn out to be the wis­est 10th-round ban­tam pick the Cats have ever made. Dur­ing the 2013 ban­tam draft he told WHL teams he was head­ing the NCAA route and ended up play­ing two sea­sons in the BCHL be­fore he left to play for St. Cloud State last sea­son.

But the Cougars took a chance he’d have a change of heart.

So far he’s lived up to the hype when the Cougars an­nounced this sum­mer Cholowski would be play­ing in Prince Ge­orge. Ac­cord­ing to Cougars head coach Richard Matvichuk, his days as an NHL reg­u­lar are not far away.

“He’s a very spe­cial player, his vi­sion on the ice and the way he can skate. Detroit is look­ing for him to be that guy that pushes the en­ve­lope on the of­fen­sive side and that’s ex­actly what he does,” said Matvichuk. “His skat­ing abil­ity and his ma­tu­rity level is off the charts. Be­ing in col­lege and play­ing with 23- and 24-year-olds you can see how ma­ture he is and he’s so ben­e­fi­cial for us. He’s ad­justed great, he’s one of our lead­ers and is go­ing to be all year and our goal is to turn him into a pro hockey player, like we did with (Bren­dan) Guhle last year.”

Cholowski showed his ma­tu­rity as an 18-year-old with the Chiefs in 2015-16 when he scored 12 goals and 40 points in 50 BCHL games. He also helped Canada West win gold that sea­son at the World Ju­nior A Hockey Chal­lenge. Last sea­son in the NCAA with the Huskies he was held to a goal and 12 as­sists in 36 games and as a late-sea­son call-up played one game for the Wings’ AHL farm team in Grand Rapids.

The Wings gave him mil­lions of rea­sons to cut short his col­lege el­i­gi­bil­ity when they signed him to a three-year con­tract in July worth $2.775 mil­lion US. He would only draw that salary if he played for the Wings, but he still was able to bank a $92,500 sign­ing bonus. In three NHL ex­hi­bi­tion games he picked up one as­sist.

“It was a lot of fun and I was en­joy­ing my­self out there and I thought I did pretty well – I was hon­oured to get drafted there and I’m just try­ing to make it now,” said Cholowski.

“They want me to be more ag­gres­sive and more as­sertive on the ice, take more con­trol and have the puck on my stick all the time and gen­er­ate of­fence and cre­ate scor­ing chances. I have to be able to carry the puck and join some rushes and score some goals and get points, but also be re­spon­si­ble on the de­fen­sive end too.”

Don Hay’s Blaz­ers (0-9-0-0) are off to their worst start in team his­tory, tak­ing on a team of Cougars (3-3-2-0) that sits third in the B.C. Di­vi­sion stand­ings. The Cougars won the first game of the sea­son se­ries 6-2 on Oct. 4 in Kam­loops.

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