Jonathan Cheechoo is the latest Ontario Hockey League grad to be signed by Medvescak Zagreb as the Croatia based team makes the switch from Austria’s Erste Bank Eishockey Liga (EBEL) to the KHL. Cheechoo, who rose to glory in the National Hockey during the 2005-06 season, is hoping to revive a suffering professional hockey career.
Cheechoo played three years in the OHL from 1997-98 to 1999-00, all with the Belleville bulls. He was taken fifth overall by the Bulls at the 1997 OHL Priority Selection behind Charlie Stephens, John Erskine, Brett Angel and Taylor Pyatt. Jonathan and Pyatt are the only two to not end up with the London Knights at one time or another.
Jonathan played a total of 193 OHL regular season games, scoring 111 goals and assisting on 138 for 249 points. In his final season, 1999-00, Cheechoo finished fourth in the league with 45 goals. He also placed tied for sixth, with Raffi Torres of the Brampton Battalion, in the race for the Eddie Powers Trophy with 91 points.
The San Jose Sharks took Cheechoo in the second round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, 29th overall. He played 501 NHL regular season games between 2002-03 and 2009-10 with the Sharks and Ottawa Senators. In 2005-06, he was awarded the Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer with 56, two more than Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers. His 93 points that season placed him tenth in the race for the Art Ross Trophy.
Jonathan has spent the past three plus seasons in the American Hockey League. This past season, 2012-13, he played with the Oklahoma City Barons, the AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers.
Katic played four years in the OHL from 2005-06 to 2008-09, all with the Sarnia Sting. He was the second overall pick by the Sting at the 2005 OHL Priority Selection, behind just John Tavares who, of course, went to the Oshawa Generals.
Like Tavares, Mark was a prospect of the New York Islanders, taken in the third round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, 62nd overall. He has appeared in eleven NHL games, all with the Islanders in 2010-11. Katic played the 2012-13 season in Germany’s Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) with Eisbaren Berlin. Berlin was crowned DEL playoff champion.
The original Sarnia Sting played four years in the Ontario Hockey League from 1991-92 to 1994-95. Letang was taken by the Cornwall Royals in the second round of the 1991 OHL Priority Selection, 20th overall. He followed the franchise as they left Cornwall after Alan’s first year to become the Newmarket Royals. Letang lasted out the franchise’s two years there and played one year with the Sting when the Royals relocated to Sarnia.
In 1993, Letang was a lowly eighth round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, 203rd overall. He has appeared in 14 NHL games, eight with the Dallas Stars in 1999-00, two with the Calgary Flames in 2001-02 and four with the Islanders in 2002-03.
Alan has been in Europe since 2004-05, playing in the DEL and EBEL. He has been with Zagreb since the 2009-10 season and has been team captain from the beginning.
Popovic played four years in the OHL from 1998-99 to 2001-02, all with the Toronto Majors. He was captain of the club in his final two years. Mark was the fourth overall pick at the 1998 OHL Priority Selection behind Jay Harrison, Lou Dickenson and Chris Eade.
In 2001, he was a second round pick of the Anaheim Ducks. Popovic has appeared in 81 NHL regular season games with the Ducks and Atlanta Thrashers. Mark has previous KHL experience, playing for SKA St. Petersburg in 2008-09. 2012-13, was his third year in Switzerland’s National League A and his second with Langnau.
Yet another OHL grad from the 1990’s still going strong, Willsie played three years with the Guelph Storm from 1995-96 to 1997-98. He was a first round pick of the Storm in 1995, going seventeenth overall.
Brian was a sixth round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and appeared in 381 NHL regular season games between 1999-00 and 2010-11 with the Avalanche, Washington Capitals and Los Angeles Kings.
Willsie is a fine example of the weird world of European professional hockey. In 2012-13, he captained TPS of Finland’s SM-Liiga. At the end of the season, he was loaned to the Kloten Flyers of Switzerland’s NLA where he played the final six regular season games and five playoff games. Brian will start the 2013-14 season with Zagreb but will be returned to TPS once the SM-Liiga season gets underway.
Mark French – Head Coach
French did not play in the Ontario Hockey League. However, he was Assistant Coach and Assistant General Manager of the North Bay Centennials for three years from 1999-00 to 2001-02. Mark has spent the past four years as Head Coach of the Hershey Bears in the AHL.
The franchise dates back to 1961. Zagreb has played in Austria’s Erste Bank Eishockey Liga since 2009-10. The team is stacked with North American players so far for 2013-14 with just three players not born in North America on the roster. Medvescak plays their home games at the 7,000 seat Dom Sportova, a venue built in 1972.
Zagreb is by far the largest city in the tiny country of Croatia. The city’s population is nearly 800,000 with a metro population of around 1.1 million. This makes up over a quarter of Croatia’s 4.2 million inhabitants.