Dennis Cholowski already has fond recollections of Buffalo and the First Niagara Center, and if all goes according to plan, he is hoping to create some new memories of the city.
In 2016, Cholowski was sitting in the stands in Buffalo with his family, when he fulfilled the childhood dream of hearing his name called in the NHL entry draft after the Detroit Red Wings selected the lanky Langley defenceman in the first round, 20th overall.
And now, the 19-year-old is one of 32 Canadian hopefuls dreaming of wearing the red and white for Team Canada at the 2018 IIHF world junior hockey championships, which just so happen to be playing back in Buffalo at the KeyBank Center (formerly the First Niagara Center).
“A lot of great memories in the building,” Cholowski told The Times last week by phone, following practice with the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League.”So it would be really cool to go to the world juniors and play there.”
Cholowski is one of 32 players invited to this week’s Team Canada selection camp, which began Dec. 12. Twenty-three players will make the final roster for the championships which run Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
The invited players received the phone call from Hockey Canada last week.
“That was one of my goals this season, to get invited to make the team, so I am pretty happy,” Cholowski said. “I am honoured just to be selected.”
The fact he is in the mix is of little surprise to Prince George head coach Richard Matvichuk, himself a former first round pick who carved out a long NHL career which saw him suit up in 796 regular season and another 123 playoff games. He also won the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999.
“He is a special player,” Matvichuk said. “And you could see right off the hop why he was a first rounder, why he is going to be a professional next year.
“He does everything right: first guy at the rink, last guy to leave.”
Cholowski played at Abbotsford’s Yale Hockey Academy before suiting up for the Chilliwack Chiefs of the BC Hockey League. In two full BCHL seasons, Cholowski had 16 goals and 67 points in 105 regular season games.
Before he went away to university, the Red Wings drafted Cholowski. He did play one season of NCAA hockey with the St. Cloud State Huskies but left school after his freshman season to ink an entry-level contract with Detroit.
Rather than playing in Grand Rapids with Detroit’s American Hockey League, the Red Wings sent the six-foot-one, 185-pound defenceman to the WHL and Prince George. The Cougars had selected Cholowski in the 10th round of the 2013 WHL bantam draft. He very likely would have been drafted much higher but teams knew he was choosing the junior A route to land an NCAA scholarship.
Matvichuk watched some videos of Cholowski’s NCAA games to get a feel for his new player.
“You could tell he was a puck-moving defenceman, he wanted to carry the puck, he wanted to push the envelope,” the coach said. “That is what his style is — he is an offensive player who defends really well.”
Through the season’s first 28 games, Cholowski sits third on the Cougars with eight goals and 25 points.
“The way he skates and sees the ice, it is like no other,” Matvichuk said, adding he is a coach’s dream for his willingness to learn and desire to get better.
Cholowski left the Cougars this week for the Hockey Canada camp. He is one of 10 defencemen in the mix for a roster spot.
“Just be aggressive, don’t hold anything back. This is my one chance to make the team,” he said about his mindset.
“I am not going to go there an be passive and worry about making mistakes.
“I am just going to go there, be aggressive and really to try to take a spot on the team.”