Thursday, February 23, 2012

Surprise Chimera Playing at MVP Pace for Capitals

By Larry Wigge

A wise old coach once told me to look past the obvious. He went on to say that a checking winger extra-ordinare with 15- to 20-goals might sometimes mean more to a team that a 30- or 40-goal scorer.


For instance, a look at the Washington Capitals lineup one might begin with Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble on offense and Mike Green and John Carlson and Karl Alzner or Dennis Wideman on defense. But ...

It might come as a surprise that many members of the Capitals entourage were talking about Jason Chimera as the team's Most Valuable Player. Yes, Chimera and his 15 goals and 13 assists in 60 games. But three of those goals were game-winners.

Seventeen goals is his single-season high -- that coming way back in 2005-06 in his first year with Columbus.

"He's been playing hard for us, going to the net hard, and he's getting good results from it," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. "He's a big guy that can skate, and he gets in on the forecheck and creates problems for the other team."

Chimera, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs in at 206 pounds, has become just the sort of hard-to-play-against NHL player he grew up idolizing. He's one of those special hard-work, never-take-off players you want on your side when something important is being played for.

"Chimera's a great teammate," said Tampa Bay's Eric Brewer. "He's like the Energizer Bunny, always in motion. He's a high-energy, physical player -- very hard to play against. When you're on the ice with him, he just makes you want to play harder, like him.

"He's one of those guys who has the gift of speed. He's big and he's strong and if he gets that outside lane on you and goes hard, good luck trying to stop him. He's just scary fast."

"I'd take another 10 guys on my team with Jason's work ethic," said then-Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, now with the St. Louis Blues.

The same 32-year- old Edmonton native that was once the fifth choice, 121st overall, in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by the Oilers.

Playing for the Oilers for the first four years of his career was a dream come true.

"Edmonton was great. It was surreal getting drafted by the team I grew up rooting for," Chimera said. "I remember I used to go to the West Edmonton Mall and watch the Oilers practice and wait to get autographs. I was a huge fan.

"When you get traded from your home town, it's tough to take. I loved it there. But by the end of the 2003-04 season, I knew I was ready to play in the NHL. All I wanted was a chance and I didn't care where."

But everything turned out fine when the inexperienced, high-energy winger went to the Blue Jackets with all confidence in the world.

"Earlier in my career, I was playing not to make a mistake. I was playing scared and you can't do that," Chimera said. "Now I just treat every shift as a new shift, every game a new game. And, if I make a mistake, big deal, I can go out and make it up the next shift."

Wonder where Jason gets that team-first attitude? Likely from his hard-working dad, Don, who was a pipe fitter, and his mom, Audrey, who was a teacher's aide. That kind of upbringing, plus a hunger that grew inside this south-side Edmonton kid, who was often told that at 140 pounds this skinny kid wasn't made for hockey.

"When we drafted him, he was a skinny, small kid. A bit of a long shot but a good late-round pick," Oilers GM Kevin Lowe said.

"He's got big speed and uses his shot off the wing really well," continued Lowe. "We didn't have the time to give him. We were loaded on the left side. But everyone in the room liked him and we wanted to give him a chance somewhere else."

Never daunted. Never-say-die attitude.

"My dad always told me; 'Don't be afraid to be a dreamer,' " Chimera said. "He said; 'Dream and try to reach that dream with everything you've got.' "

Chimera, who weighed 140-pounds when he was drafted, had obstacles to overcome, but never thought of the lack of size as an impediment.

"To me, your head is the biggest obstacle to overcome," Chimera said. "As a kid, I just played. Then, in Edmonton, I worried. I began to wonder where I fit in. Once you learn that you make your own breaks in this world, you're just fine."

But call it an-over-30-attitude-change. Chimera mostly creates problems when he puts the puck in the net.

"I've been going to the net more than I have. So I'm getting rewarded," Chimera said. "Ten of of those goals came from right in the paint. You have to get there. Hopefully I can keep it going all year."

So what’s the difference now?

"Well, I’ve just always had it. Was just going to wait until my later, mid-30s to get it going," Chimera joked. "I don't want to peak too early. I want to keep playing until I"m 45 so hopefully I'll keep on getting better."

It's funny, but things seem to be going a little faster on the ice when Jason Chimera is out there. He's got a way to get everyone's heartbeat beating a little faster with his enthusiasm.

Seeing a 32-year-old player busting his but all the time has a way of catching on.

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