It’s the dream of thousands of Canadian boys, and Dennis Cholowski is about to live it.
This weekend, the teenager will be in the seats at Buffalo’s First Niagara Centre, and at some point he’ll hear his name called by a National Hockey League team.
“I’ve visualized it a few times,” said the Langley native who grew up cheering for the Vancouver Canucks. “My family and I have been waiting a long time for this and it’s finally here, so we’re very excited.”
The graduating Chilliwack Chiefs defenceman spent last season rocketing up the rankings, impressing scouts with his skill and poise.
It didn’t hurt that he went through a growth spurt or two that brought him up to six-foot-one and 176 pounds, with plenty of room on his lanky frame to pack on muscle.
Just three years ago, Cholowksi stood five-foot-six and weighed 126 pounds.
“If you’d told me I’d be in this position 12 months ago, I would have been surprised,” Cholowski admitted. “My ranking at the start of the year was pretty low, but I’ve always been confident in my abilities.”
“I think I was able to take control of things on the ice a little more this year, be more assertive and dominate at times. Especially in the second half.
Early-season rankings had him pegged as a fourth to sixth round candidate, but he climbed steadily and by midseason, Cholowski had risen to 48th among North American skaters according to NHL Central Scouting. And in their final rankings released in April, he was listed as 23rd.
A solid showing at the World Junior A Challenge, where he helped Canada West to gold, boosted his stock significantly.
A strong BCHL regular season was trumped by an even stronger playoff performance.
Cholowski was a dominant two-way force, solidifying his standing with an army of scouts who filled Prospera Centre seats down the stretch.
“Being able to work as hard as I did and see that ranking keep going up and up, knowing it was paying off, that was very exciting,” Cholowski said. “If I get picked in the first round, I’ll be extremely excited and happy, but I’ll also know that this is actually when the real hard work starts.”
Any pro teams still on the fence had a final look at Cholowski at the NHL’s scouting combine, putting him through a battery of physical and mental tests.
From May 30 to June 4 he interviewed with 29 NHL management groups.
“I actually have three more this week, so it’s been real busy,” he said. “I try to show my personality in the interviews, be honest and confident and show them that I’m a polite and respectful kid.”
“I try to stay relaxed and smile and I think all the interviews have gone well.”
Cholowski has a chance to be part of history.
Never has the BCHL had three players drafted in the first round, but Cholowski and the Penticton Vees duo of Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro are good bets to crack the top 30.
“They’re obviously great players and I was watching their stock rise at the same time mine was,” he said. “I had a chance to talk to them at the World Junior A Challenge, the CJHL Prospects Game and the combine and it’s been nice going through the process with them.”
“It’s cool, with how long the BCHL has been around, to have an opportunity to make history.”
Cholowski will play NCAA hockey next season for the Minnesota-based St. Cloud State Huskies.
His final BCHL regular season stats were 16 goals, 51 assists and 67 points in 106 games. He added another four goals and 22 points in 32 playoff games.
He feels ready to take the next step.
“I was just out there last week meeting with the players and skating with them a bit,” he said. “They’re nice and the rink is nice and I’m very excited to get started there.”
— with files from Gary Ahuja