Having made great strides since skating in the Vernon Pee Wee Hockey Tournament, Nick and Anne Cherkowski now stand as examples of what today’s crop of young local players can achieve in the sport.
The tournament takes place Feb. 13-16, and as the cover athletes for the tournament, the two local siblings have nothing but fond recollections of playing on the biggest stage in town for Pee Wee players.
“Growing up in Vernon it’s just a cool tournament to be a part of, and to play in it is still something I’ll never forget,” said Nick, who played in the tournament in 2013.
Now in its 49th year, the tournament has a long list of alumni who went on to get drafted by NHL teams, including players like Vernon’s Andrew Ebbett who played 224 NHL games in his career and spent two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks.
Playing for the Junior A Vipers was the dream of Nick’s growing up in the city – a dream he realized when he played his first game with the big team in the 2017/18 BCHL season.
The 23-year-old went on to play his first full season with the Vipers the following year, notching two goals and 13 points in 54 games.
This year has been one of changes for Nick. He was traded two the Wenatchee Wild three games into the season, and then again to the Chilliwack Chiefs 24 games later.
“It’s definitely been kind of a whirlwind season for sure, but I’ve enjoyed kind of getting used to new towns, new hockey markets and living away from home,” he said.
Next year will require an even bigger adjustment, as he has committed to Merrimack College in the U.S.
“About middle of October I went down to Boston to tour the campus and see how the school works and the hockey program that they have there,” Nick explained. “I just kind of fell in love and I knew it was the spot for me.”
As he prepares himself for the next stage of his hockey career, Nick still remembers the feeling he had at the Classic, which more many young players is the first taste of the hockey spotlight.
“There’s a little bit of buzz around the tournament and it’s fun, you kind of feel like a superstar,” he said.
His advice to this year’s players is simple: “Just take it all in.”
Meanwhile, younger sister Anne Cherkowski was busy soaking up the buzz at the Women’s World Under 18 Hockey Championships in Slovakia from late December to early January. It was her second year competing with Canada at the international showcase, and the 17-year-old left with a silver medal around her neck.
“That was definitely something I will never forget,” Anne said of the experience. “Even just travelling around and seeing a whole new part of the world and being able to do it while playing hockey is something that I think is really special.”
Anne, like her brother, is college-bound having committed to the University of Minnesota – a hockey school through and through.
“I always wanted to be in a spot that had the best facilities, best team, best environment to grow and so I think Minnesota really fit that for me,” she said.
Anne won’t be eligible for next year’s World Under-18s, but she’s not finished vying for a spot with Team Canada.
“Think definitely the Olympics is a huge (goal) for me. I’ve always dreamed of that as a little kid.”
As a kid she also spent countless hours playing ball hockey with her brother in their basement, and well beyond those formative years Nick continues to guide her by example.
“He definitely had a huge impact on my hockey career,” Anne said. he’s super dedicated, super driven, the most hard-working person ever, so I think that is something I just look up to every day.”
Anne says she never expected to one day represent the Vernon Pee Wee Hockey Tournament, which she was a part of in 2014. But she knows it wouldn’t have happened without a deep passion for the sport from an early age.
“We didn’t really think things would turn out like this, we just kind of played the sport because we love the sport, and I guess growing up having each other to push each other and build off of that … really drove us to be where we are now.”