Monday, January 03, 2011

Tom Chorske Interview

The mid to late 90's was a beautiful time if you were a Sens fan. After years of being a league laughing stock and almost setting the worst record of all time, some of our draft picks and talent was starting to pay off, culminating in our first ever playoff appearance in the 1996-97 season. A major part of that effort was Tom Chorske, who will live on forever in Senators lore for his Buddha statue that helped propel the Sens to that first bit of success.

I had been wondering what he was up to and what had happened to the Buddha, so I got in touch with him and he graciously agreed to give me some time. We touch on everything from what he's up to now, his time in Ottawa, winning a Stanley Cup, which Sens he keeps in contact with still and more. So sit back and enjoy the read.

Sens Town: Hey Tom, thanks for joining Sens Town. So I'm sure a lot of us are wondering what are you up to now? I know you work in Minnesota and do TV for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers but what else have you been doing since you left the NHL?

Tom Chorske: First, I finished my degree at U of Minnesota. Started a family (wife Kristie, 3 kids - boy-girl-boy ). Worked in sales at a larger company for 5 yrs and learned about a little about a lot of the businesses in Minnesota, large and small. Started doing some small broadcasting gigs in MN and then spent one season doing the radio analyst role for the NJ Devils. Now, in addition to broadcasting on Fox Sports North, I'm part of an insurance group in the Twin Cities. We work with all different types of businesses and individuals regarding insurance and employee benefits. I really enjoy the work and along with the businesses and management teams I work with, I even connect with some current and ex-NHLers for their insurance.

Sens Town: What's the level of play and fan interest in the NCAA compared to the Junior system here? I've been to games at the University of Michigan before and the fans are really into it, was a great scene to be at. I know you played for Minnesota, how has it changed since back then? Was American college hockey as big back then? Did you have any teammates from the Gophers that made the NHL as well?

Tom Chorske: Interest is quite high but the Gophers have had some sub par seasons recently. Collegiate hockey is very good and there are plenty of Canadians playing in the NCAA. Starting to see some Europeans too. Most of the guys that have had memorable NHL careers came after me (Vanek, Ballard, Martin, Leopold, Rasmussen, Johnson, Okposo)

Sens Town: When did you think you might be able to make hockey a career or make the NHL? When was the moment you thought to yourself, I have a legit chance to make it.

Tom Chorske: I was about 16 yrs old. I started hearing that scouts were following me and I was climbing the ratings in Central Scouting. I started getting a lot of college scholarship offers as well.

Sens Town: How did it feel to be on the first team to ever win a medal for the USA at the world juniors?

Tom Chorske: That was really cool...kind of a mini Miracle. We were a close bunch of kids still in college and the Tourney was in Canada (Copps Colesium) so we felt like underdogs and were proud to come home with a medal.

Sens Town: USA hockey has come along way since 1986 hasn't it. They won the gold last year and are considered the favorites in Buffalo this year. How do you feel about the state of hockey in the US right now? Must be pretty proud.

Tom Chorske: USA Hockey has come a long way. We're seeing some GREAT American players hit the NHL in the last 2-3 yrs. But it's been coming for some time...there was a slight lull but don't forget the guys like Weight, Modano, Guerin, Amonte, Leetch, Rolston, Kevin Stevens, Chelios...

Sens Town: Is it true that you were the last guy cut from the 88 American olympic team? Was it really hard to take, or more of a thankful you were even included in the process, or a bit of both?

Tom Chorske: Very disappointing. Playing in the Olympics was a big dream of mine. It was justified, I didn't play well enough leading up to the games. I used it as motivation to make it to the next level!

Sens Town: How did it feel to be drafted so high (16th overall) by a historic team like the Montreal Canadiens?

Tom Chorske: I was very surprised and didn't realize the magnitude of it. It was an honor to be picked by the Habs and play in the old Forum. The number of great legends from Montreal is incredible.

Sens Town: You spent a bit of time in the AHL, even playing on the reg season champs for Sherbooke. What did you find to be the biggest differences between the AHL and NHL?

Tom Chorkse: It's totally different now than then. It was still a bit like Slap Shot in 1990. I t was a good learning experience and gave me some "street cred" with veterans in future years. We had a really tough team so I never had to fight...it showed in the 5-6 fights I got into in the NHL :)

Sens Town: So you were on the 1994-95 NJ Devils team that won the cup. How did it feel to win that finally? Be honest, it's pretty awesome to see your name engraved on Lord Stanley isn't it? What did you do with your day with the cup?

Tom Chorske: There's nothing like having your name on the Cup. I'm very proud of it. So much, that I won't even try to put it into words. I took the Cup to parties and arenas, sports radio show, friends houses, bars...

Sens Town: So you win the cup and then are put on waivers and you're claimed by Ottawa, a team only around for a few years at that point. What was your reaction to being acquired by the Senators?

Tom Chorske: I was flattered that they wanted me to come in and help them improve but it was tougher than I thought it was going to be.

Sens Town: So your first year here the Sens went 18-59-5, quite the change from winning the Stanley Cup the year before. How did your first season here go? That was also the first season of a future Ottawa legend in Daniel Alfredsson, who won the Calder that year. What were your impressions of him during training camp? How was it to play with him as a rookie?

Tom Chorske: I arrived at the end of camp. Alfie amazed everyone that year. He was a great kid and has turned into a great captain and had a incredible career. I'm still friends with him.

Sens Town: You were also there for some Yashin years, what did you think about his contract dispute and how was he as a teammate? How was he off the ice?

Tom Chorske: I don't remember dwelling too much on his contract but it was a lot and I would have like some of it. Off the ice he was ok...he had kind of believed he was a "star" but he didn't really make us a better team. He wasn't a jerk or a bad person...he was promoted as a "franchise player" so that was his mindset.

Sens Town: You also played with Alexandre Daigle, I feel that while he didn't live up to expectations, he wasn't as bad as everyone made him out to be. In 301 games for Ottawa, he had 172 points. Do you think the criticism was warranted? What do you think went wrong for him? By all accounts he was a really nice guy, perhaps too nice?

Tom Chorske: He also, like Yashin, was "over sold" by management and in Canada the media and fans love to criticize in those scenarios. Daigle was a very good guy at heart and liked to laugh. It's too bad he had to fight all that stuff. He had a strong confidence and he seemed to understand it and deal with it as best as possible.

Sens Town: So in your second year in Ottawa, we made the playoffs on the final day of the season going 31-36-15, with Duchesne scoring to put us in for the very first time. What did that feel like for you and the guys?

Tom Chorske: Big accomplishment. Very proud of that feat too.

Sens Town: Many of the younger Sens fans might not remember, but a big key to that season was the Buddha power and the statue that you had that rallied the team. How did that come about?

Tom Chorske: I bought it during All Star break because I was in a slump...it worked for me and then the press got behind it.

Sens Town: I've been told that you no longer have that statue, what happened to it?

Tom Chorske: Lost it before my career ended. I think a bag handler stole it while loading the plane.

Sens Town: Do you still keep in touch with any of the guys from back then on the Sens?

Tom Chorske: Sean Hill, Alfie, Lance Pitlick (coaches my son's AAA team), Ted Drury - a bit.

Sens Town: When you look back on your time here in Ottawa, what do you think?

Tom Chorske: We improved...got things going in the right direction for the future, made good friends, Jaques Martin was a good coach but didn't say much.

Sens Town: I know you used to be #9 before giving it up for Bernie Nichols on New Jersey and #17 here. What made you pick those numbers?

Tom Chorske: I was #7 as a kid so I went with the closest to that as I could...7 was already taken in NJ.

Sens Town: I heard you used to play quarterback in high school as well, still a big football fan? Living in and being from Minne, I assume you're a Vikes fan. What do you think of the poor season this year after last years NFC championship run? Like Favre or tired of the side show?

Tom Chorske: I like playing and my son plays now but I'm not a die hard NFL fan. Vikes always break our hearts. Liked Favre for his grit and game heroics but the side show has taken over the last 6 months.

Sens Town: What was your most memorable goal in your career?

Tom Chorske: My first NHL goal, a goal against the Russian Red Army Team at 1989 World Champs, 2 goals in a 1994 playoff game, and 2 goals against the NJ Devils to knock them from making the playoffs the year after they waived me. That's more than one...sorry.

Sens Town: Tell us one thing we might not know about you?

Tom Chorske: No one else in my family ever played hockey before me...at all really.

Sens Town: What do you think about this years Sens team?

Tom Chorske: Seem to be underachieving a bit, but it's a tough league and salary cap handcuffs making moves to right the ship.

So there you have it ladies and gentleman, straight from the man himself. To me it was a great little view into some retro Sens teams. I want to thank Tom for his time.

Thoughts on the interview?


3 comments:

Jeremy Milks said...

Great interview! Talking to vintage Sens is definitely an awesome thing to do.

Anonymous said...

awesome job , thanks for the read !

Anonymous said...

You should try to track down other past Sens players to get their thoughts on the team then and now.