By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Jakob Chychrun says the heartbreaking end to the Arizona Coyotes’ 2018-2019 season fueled the fire to make the current one a success.
“We knew we had a good thing going here and we were capable of a lot more,” he says after practice the day before Thanksgiving.
“It wasn’t what anybody wanted, and we were just excited to come into this season with a lot of the same guys with a couple of big additions.”
The 21-year-old defenseman is speaking of right winger Phil Kessel, who was moved from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Coyotes in June. As of November 29, the Coyotes sat in second place behind the Edmonton Oilers.
The energy on the ice is renewed, but Chychrun looks beyond that.
“I see it in the fans, too, and the new ownership,” he says. “Everything just seems to be clicking right now. Hopefully we’ll keep it up.”
Chychrun and the rest of the Coyotes have upped the ante off the ice. The team and the Arizona Coyotes Foundation invested $3.4 million into the Valley community this past fiscal year. The investment reached numerous Arizona nonprofit organizations, schools, community partners and youth hockey groups.
“This is my fourth year with the team and each year it seems like we’re doing a little more,” Chychrun says.
“It’s really important to the team and to the management and everything. We do a few trips every year that really hit home for me. I love visiting Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Every time we go there, it’s very rewarding to see the joy we can bring in such a small period of time. There are little things that just go a long way for us. It just goes to show you that this is bigger than hockey.”
Charity and a sense of community were instilled in Chychrun by his parents. He was born and raised in Boca Raton, Florida, the son of Nancy Chychrun and former NFL defenseman Jeff Chychrun.
“They always preached community work,” he says. “When my sister and I were young, they would bring us to nursing homes and we would just hang out to try and brighten their day.
“We wouldn’t even know anyone there. Looking back, that was pretty cool.”
Hockey is Chychrun’s lifelong ambition. He started playing hockey in Florida, and then joined the Little Caesars hockey organization in Detroit.
In 2013, he moved to Toronto to play for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens. The following year, he was the Sarnia (Ontario, Canada) Sting’s first-round selection and was nominated for the Ontario Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year.
The Arizona Coyotes chose Chychrun in the first round, 16th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. In June of that year, he inked a three-year, NHL entry-level contract. His first goal came on October 20 against the Montreal Canadiens.
In August 2017, he had knee surgery for an injury he sustained during off-season training. The following off season didn’t bode well, either, as he tore his ACL. In the fall of 2018, he signed a six-year, $27.6 million contract extension.
Besides volunteering, Chychrun enjoys the outdoor lifestyle in Arizona.
“We’re lucky enough to play hockey in Arizona,” he says. “We try to take advantage of the water. I’m pretty outdoors-y. I love to golf. I love to fish.”
Those sorts of activities allow Chychrun to relax and not get burned out.
“I think by the end of the year, everyone’s burned out, to be honest,” he says. “We’re a little burned out. But we take advantage of the off days. Our coaches all played, so they’re aware of how tired we can get out there.
“It’s such a long year—82 games is long and hard on our bodies. At the end of the day, we want to win so bad and it takes over.”