By Dave Eminian
Of The Journal Star
PEORIA, Ill. – Bo Cheesman had home-ice advantage as the Peoria Rivermen opened their AHL training camp Thursday at Owens Center.
The Peoria native grew up playing at the public rink, where the Rivermen sometimes skate when Carver Arena is not available. The team is scheduled to shift to Carver Arena for the rest of camp beginning today.
“This is where it all started for me,” said Cheesman, one of 23 players in Peoria’s camp, of which 17 are down from the St. Louis Blues. “I last skated in an organized game here when I was a sophomore at Richwoods High School.
“Right over there, on Rink 2, is where I sat in a chair when I was 5. My mother pushed me around on the ice, teaching me how to skate.
“For me, to be here at Owens for my first skate in AAA, it takes the edge off. It felt special, brought back a lot of memories.”
He’ll have memories on the Carver Arena ice later this week, too. As a 7-year-old in the Peoria
Youth Hockey Association, Cheesman was picked as the Rivermen’s very first youth player mascot during the 1988-89 season.
“I was standing in the tunnel outside the locker room, practicing my slap shot,” he grinned. “Then it was time to go out on the ice (to join the Rivermen for pre-game introductions). I took off toward the ice, fell, and slid halfway through the neutral zone.”
Cheesman, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound right wing, finished a four-year career at Lake Superior State and made a two-game pro debut with the Rivermen in 2004-05, the franchise’s final year in the ECHL.
He’s an established two-way winger now in the ECHL, scoring 19 goals for Wheeling and Long Beach in 72 games last season, and 20 for Wheeling in 69 games (with a +15 rating) two years ago.
He will be a longshot to make a Rivermen roster jammed with forwards who already have NHL or AHL contracts. His destination will most likely be with ECHL Alaska. But Cheesman has progressed every year as a pro, and he’s closing in as a future AHL role player.
“I see the roster numbers here and I know the situation,” he said. “Eventually, I see myself in this mix, a part of this team. I want to be that guy who can come in here and deliver energy, smart play, help the team with the little things.
“I’m going to do everything I can to earn that chance.”