At the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the Montreal Canadiens selected Prince Albert’s Kyle Chipchura in the first round, surprised to see that the big center was still on board when they went to make their selection with the 18th overall pick. Ranked as the fourth North American skater by Central Scouting, Chipchura’s draft season was hampered by a major groin injury, that affected his play for a large portion of year yet he continued to play despite the pain.
For general manager Bob Gainey, it was his first draft since taking over for the now assistant general manager Andre Savard, and he wasted no time in filling the need for a big, hard working center, something the Canadiens had been lacking in their system for years. The Vimy, Alberta native is known for his work ethic, professional attitude and solid two-way play, traits that Gainey is certainly very familiar with himself.
This season started off well for Chipchura, who found himself at times the top scorer on his team and appeared in the top ten of league scoring. He also contributed to Team WHL’s wins over Team Russia at the U-20 RE/MAX games. But an on-ice accident during a team practice that saw Chipchura get cut by a skate on his right Achilles tendon turned his season upside down. He was forced into emergency surgery to reattach his tendon and spent two months of wearing a cast.
Sadly for Chipchura, the injury occurred just days before invitations to Canada’s U-20 National Junior team. With his solid play leading up to the evaluation camp as well as his strong showing at the RE/MAX games, he had a solid case. The good news is that he is expected to be fully recovered by the start of the 2005-06 season, and Prince Albert fans will get back one of their top players next year.
Hockey’s Future had the chance to speak to Chipchura earlier this week as his team gets ready for playoff hockey.
HF: I’m sure it’s been tough being out of the lineup and being able to do much, but can you give an update on how the injury has healed, and what effects are you expecting it to have on your skating down the road?
KC: The injury has healed fully. It will effect my skating for the first while, but by the start of next season I should have full power and hopefully no effect on my skating by then.
HF: What sort of rehab did you do? Also with your statement about coming back this season, was there concern from doctors about you pushing too hard and over doing it?
KC: I worked with Dr. McGee in Edmonton who is the doctor that works with the Oilers for their therapy. The doctors couldn’t really give me a set date to come back on, so when I said that I wanted to come back, they told me that would be something I should be very cautious about.
HF: Over the summer you took part in your first professional development camp with the Montreal Canadiens. What were your first impressions and overall thoughts from the camp as well as the experience of working with the staff?
KC: The camp was really good for me as I got to work with professional coaches and be treated as a professional. I got to see first hand what it takes to be a pro.
HF: What sort of information did the staff have for you directly, what did they tell you to focus on for the year? Also at the camp you were working with another first rounder, Andrei Kostitsyn, in what looked like you were perhaps trying to explain the drills to him, it must have been difficult to communicate with one another.
KC: The staff told me to keep fine tuning my game, to keep improving my skating and shot release, as well as to improve throughout the season and keep working hard. Andrei did not know much English coming into the camp but most of us were trying to help him out as much as we could. By the end of the camp we had a basic understanding with one another.
HF: When you were selected by the Canadiens at the NHL Entry Draft this past summer, can you talk about your reaction to being picked, did you have an indication that they were interested in you?
KC: I didn’t have any idea that they were going to pick me and my reaction is still something I can’t explain. It is something you dream of happening to you all your life, and when it happens it is amazing. The day went by so fast! It was a pretty proud day for me.
HF: Could you talk about your experience with Canada’s U-18 National Junior team last year in Belarus? While it wasn’t a great tournament for Canada, you were one of the leaders in goals, points and penalty minutes for your team while playing on the third line.
KC: The experience was probably the highlight of my career so far. I thought the team played pretty well until we ran into Team Russia during the semi-finals, and we were beat by a pretty good team.
HF: It had to be tough to see the team not get gold, but were you pleased with your efforts as well as the experience of playing for your country against a high level of competition?
KC: Unfortunately we did not get the bounces in the bronze medal game against the Czechs. It is something that I would really like the opportunity to play for Team Canada again and get a gold medal this time.
HF: What style or brand of hockey do you prefer to play, what can fans expect to see from you in a game? Do you enjoy playing in a more physical game, or a more wide open high scoring game?
KC: I enjoy more of a physical game. I am more of a physical player then more of a wide open style player. Out here in the WHL we don’t get many of those wide open games as most are a lot more physical.
HF: Did you ever have any thoughts of going to play in the NCAA, or did you know early on you wanted to play in the WHL?
KC: No, I always knew from an early age I wanted to play in the WHL. I enjoyed the league and always dreamed about playing in the NHL and thought the WHL would be the best way to get there.
HF: What’s your opinion on the WHL allowing 15-year-olds to dress for a few games, do you feel this gives an advantage to kids in the WHL over the OHL and QMJHL. You played in two games for Prince Albert during the 2001-2002 season, what was it like to play in such a quality league at such a young age?
KC: Yes I think it’s good for a kid coming in and play a few games as well as just being around the team. It is good for the players to see what the next level is like and areas where he may need to improve before the following season. It is good for the coaches as well to get an idea of what kind of player they are getting next season.
HF: This summer when you start training for the 2005-06 season, are there any parts of your game that you will focus on more closely, areas you feel you need to improve upon?
KC: For the summer with my injury it will be very important for me to get my leg power back, so that will be different than before any other season.
HF: Do the Canadiens give you any help on personal training, or how to improve your mobility or acceleration? Do they put you on a work out program, or leave it to you to hit the weights on your own?
KC: The Canadiens offer any help that I need. I worked with Scott Livingston in the summer at the development camp and he has helped out a lot up to this point and has offered to help down the road. I do work out with Norm Lacombe in Edmonton and spend some time in Los Angeles with TR Goodman and Pro Camp. The main focus is total body strength, but this year more then others it will be about concentrating on lower body strength.
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