Ottawa Senators star Jakob Chychrun may have been raised in South Florida, but the Nation’s Capital has always been a special place, like a second home.
His father, Jeff, was raised here en route to his own NHL career. His grandfather, John, still lives here, as does Jakob’s sister, Taylor. And they all spent their summers here together at the family cottage on White Lake.
Back in March, after a year and half of speculation, Arizona finally traded Chychrun to the Ottawa Senators, who’d been in the market for a high end, top four defenceman for a long time. To get one with such deep family connections to Ottawa was a fantastic bonus. It certainly won’t hurt the Senators when they begin to talk about an extension next summer.
So while the deal has worked out very nicely for Chychrun and his family, it certainly wasn’t easy to leave behind friends, teammates and the only NHL organization he’d known for seven years.
“It was definitely a tough time,” Chychrun said. “For me, personally, I felt like I went through about three different sorts of rebuilds in Arizona in my time there. And I think there just comes a point where you start to get discouraged. It’s not easy going through that.
There just comes a time where you’re only human and you want to win so badly in this league. You realize how short of a career you really have and how few opportunities you have to win.
“And so that’s really ultimately what it came down to for me. And it was a very, very difficult decision. I remember those conversations with my loved ones at my home like it was yesterday. We were writing down the pros and cons and really doing our due diligence on what the right decision was going to be for me.
“We did not take that decision lightly. And I think we ultimately decided that it would be best for me to try to get moved on. It definitely took a while, but I’m very happy with where I’m at now and looking forward to the future here in Ottawa.”
One of the things that Chychrun most looked forward to about playing for Ottawa was that his grandfather would be able to see him play more often.
“Yeah, that’s something that’s always been on my mind,” Chychrun said. “Being able to play in a place where it’s easier for him specifically to be able to come watch my games. Because he’s somebody that I’ve just loved dearly since I was a little kid. He’s been one of my favorite people on this planet.
“I’d see him at our cottage every summer of my life. I looked forward to every opportunity to see Dido (Ukrainian for grandfather) and he was either coming to the cottage or we were going into town to see him. And every Christmas time, we’d stay at their place in town and have Christmas with them.
“But, since I started playing in the NHL, he really hasn’t been able to see too much of me playing. Maybe once or twice a year when we were in Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto, basically. And the time change was very hard too for the east coasters to stay up late and watch the West Coast games.
In terms of both talent and camaraderie, how would you describe the Ottawa
Man, it’s special. I really believe that we’re a team that doesn’t have any holes. From forward to defense to goalies, we’re a team that is dangerous. It’s a matter of us taking it one day at a time and starting to develop that mindset that we are a team that can win. Internally, we have very strong beliefs on what we can accomplish.
It seems like a really tight locker room with people that genuinely get along.
Yeah, it really is. I’ve been pretty lucky. In Arizona, we had pretty good groups too. But this group here is unbelievable. I mean, I couldn’t believe it when I got here. The entire team is so young. And then you got a few guys like Claude Giroux, Travis Hamonic and Joonas Korpisalo. They have a great veteran presence. But even those guys, they act like kids still. And they want to be a part of this young core.
Claude Giroux is one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever met. And he’s still like a kid. He always wants to be up against the young guys. It’s just such a great integration of young talent and guys who have experience in the playoffs. And so I think it’s a great thing we’ve got going here. It’s a tight knit room for sure.
In your first home game, you were on the bench, and the crowd went bananas when they put the Jumbotron camera on you as if to say, “Welcome to Ottawa.” And you started clapping along as well, hyping them up further. What was that moment like?
That was honestly one of the coolest moments I think I’ve had in the NHL. I remember going out for my first shift and the place just started to go kind of crazy. I didn’t realize it was for me. I was just focused on my first shift. And then I scored a goal. And then late in the third, we were up by three goals and I guess the camera went on me and the place was going crazy. It was one of those moments you get caught in. I definitely had a few of the ex-teammates reaching out for that one, giving me a hard time.
Would you say that was out of character for you?
Not really. I’m not shy to do something like that here and there, if the time’s right, and just kind of embrace the moment, embrace the situation. I think you have to do that at times and live a little. I think, at times, as hockey players, we can kind of be like robots and not really show any personality. I think it’s nice to be unique and be your own person. I think that helps grow the game as well.
You’ve had a lot of injuries in your young career.
I’ve definitely had some bad bounces. My first injury came during training in Arnprior when I stepped in a pothole while running hills. And another one in a game against Calgary, I was slew footed by Michael Frolik. You can see that one on YouTube. And another one I had my arm extended and someone basically skated through my wrist. It’s mostly just been bad luck. There’s really nothing you can do about those types of injuries.
You have a famously huge commitment to health and wellness. Where did that begin for you?
My pops obviously played in the NHL, and so he’s really done a great job after his career, keeping up with his health and fitness. He works out pretty much daily and I think kind of just seeing him as a kid, still going to the gym and working hard was definitely an inspiration for me.
And I remember there was one summer when I was maybe 10 years old where I met Mark Slater. He trained my dad and a lot of NHLers locally here in Ottawa. Mark is like family and he gave me kind of a sit down and chat and laid out a workout regimen for me. I remember just loving it and kind of diving headfirst into it.
You obviously did a couple of Sarnia winters in junior. But beyond that, your life has been in Florida and Arizona. Are you ready for an Ottawa winter?
I don’t know if I am. I had two years in Sarnia and one in Toronto before Sarnia. But I know Ottawa winters are on another level. So we’ll see. I’m not thrilled about it, but I’ve wanted a white Christmas forever. But since I got to Arizona, there just wasn’t enough time during the NHL break to leave and come up here. But like every Christmas in my dad’s life, he never missed coming home, even when he played.
Until I went to Arizona, that was the first Christmas he missed coming back home here to Ottawa. So I can’t wait to be able to have that time here with the family at Christmas time and be at home with them. But yeah, winter will be an adjustment for sure.
Time for the lightning round. What are some of your hobbies away from the game?
I love golf. And I love to fish. Those are my two biggest hobbies.
What kind of fisherman are you?
Bass. I’ve got a bass boat here in town at the cottage on White Lake. I love to get out on that. I could kill about eight hours on that boat. It’s a really nice time for me to just unwind and get my head in a good place and away from all the noise and just kind of be a boy having some fun on the water.
Do you have a nickname?
Chick. My dad was Chick as well. Guys call me Chick, Chicky, Chich, Chichy, Chicky Baby, Little Chick. I’ve got a lot of variations of Chick.
What’s your dream car?
Wow. I’m a big car guy. I grew up in South Florida, so I’ve seen just about all the cars that there are out there and it kind of made me want to have a collection one day. I don’t know if I could even pick one. I mean, if I had to, I love the Ferrari 488 Pista. The Ferrari 488 is a beautiful model, and then the Pista model is like an elevated version that’s even more ludicrous. I just love it.
What’s been your favourite vacation spot so far?
I’m usually a tropical vacation kind of guy. But I also love Copenhagen, Denmark. We have close family friends in Copenhagen that my mom goes way back with. And they’re very successful. They own a few hotels there and some very different businesses in downtown Copenhagen. So whenever we go visit them, it’s always great memories and special times.
It’s actually where my dad proposed to my mom at Tivoli Gardens.
What would you be if you weren’t a hockey player?
Oh, man. Baseball was kind of another sport I really excelled at and I think I probably could have taken that to a high level as well. I had a really good bat. I was a first baseman. So it’s hard for me not to say baseball.
What’s the last song you downloaded?
I’m a big Morgan Wallen guy
Did you go to his Ottawa show in September?
We did. It was my third time seeing him. He’s the best.
Dancing. Love or hate it?
I wish I loved it, but I can’t do it. So I hate it.
Who’s your best friend in the NHL?
Christian Dvorak. He lived with me for one year in Arizona. We were there kind of right from the start together. I’ve never been more sad to see a teammate get traded. That was a really tough one for me.
But all the guys, Keller, Schmaltz, Christian Fischer, and all the boys in Arizona, and now here in Ottawa too. It’s a great group.
Are you a social media guy?
Yeah, I am. Twitter is just nonsense so I deleted that a while ago. I’ll still pop on if I gotta post something here or there. I’m on Instagram and trying not to be on that as much because it can kind of suck you in.
Tell us about your new partnership with the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
Yeah, I’m very excited about that. It’s really cool being a Florida boy growing up there. Obviously their headquarters are there and the resort they built there is incredible. That’s a brand I’ve been familiar with since I was a kid. And I didn’t really know how world renowned they were. They’re in 70 different countries now with 270 locations, I believe. They win awards every year for not only hospitality, but also their workplace environment that they create for their employees. It’s second to none. I think they really love to give back in all the communities they’re in. So I think it’s going to be a great thing for Ottawa and I’m really proud to partner with them.
It figures that he’d be a good fit for a casino partnership because when the Senators managed to pull off the trade to acquire a player like Jakob Chychrun, they definitely hit the jackpot.