Conner Chaulk: ‘Elite League is phenomenal and very underrated’

Conner Chaulk in action for the Coventry Blaze in his debut versus the Cardiff Devils (Image: Scott Wiggins)
Conner Chaulk in action for the Coventry Blaze in his debut versus the Cardiff Devils (Image: Scott Wiggins)

Conner Chaulk is like most of his peers, excited to graduate from university and looking forward to taking the next step in his career. Born in Regina, Canada, he lives with recently made friends in an unfamiliar city. In the final term of his studies, the 24-year-old is still getting used to his new surroundings – but relishes the freedom student life offers.

Even so, Chaulk’s circumstances are a continent apart from those of his University of Regina classmates. Most of his contemporaries are plotting careers in the business world; his plans are quite different.

Chaulk signed his first professional contract a fortnight ago, parachuting into the Elite League’s intense playoff chase with the Coventry Blaze. But that doesn’t bother the 6-foot-2 forward, he landed in the West Midlands prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. And he’s unflappable anyway.

Conner Chaulk, warming up before his Coventry Blaze debut versus the Cardiff Devils (Image: Scott Wiggins)
Conner Chaulk, warming up before his Coventry Blaze debut versus the Cardiff Devils (Image: Scott Wiggins)

“I’m in the final year of my degree and taking the last four classes here,” Coventry’s latest signing explains, “so I’m looking forward to getting that done and moving onto the next chapter in my life.”

Chaulk, a soon-to-be finance graduate, signed with the Blaze at the start of the month, becoming the second student from Canada, after Brayden Brown, to join the team midseason.

“I live with Brayden and he’s been really good,” Chaulk says of his new flatmate. “We have a lot of things in common: he’s in school as well, we’re facing the same challenges and have a lot going on at the same time.”

Conner Chaulk: ‘He’s really focussed on the details’

At the top of the centreman’s to-do list, aside from passing his exams, is becoming a key piece of Danny Stewart’s roster heading down the stretch.

Coventry’s uncompromising head coach, suspended by the Elite League for a fiery outburst last month, expects a lot from his players – and Chaulk is keen to deliver. “One thing I’ve really noticed about him is that he lets his players play,” the forward muses, weighing his words thoughtfully, “he knows there’s a lot of room for creativity out there and he’s really good about that.”

Danny Stewart, Coventry Blaze (Image: Scott Wiggins)
Danny Stewart, Coventry Blaze (Image: Scott Wiggins)

Most of all, though, it’s Stewart’s attention to detail that has captured the left-shooter’s imagination.

“In the smaller rinks in North America, it’s a lot easier to either stay with your guy or chase outside the dots and get back, but he’s really focussed on the details of just knowing where I should be and when I should go,” says Chaulk, a three-time Academic All-Canadian.

He adds: “It’s been really good so far, Danny’s been awesome.”

Getting Settled in with the Blaze

Before putting pen to paper with the Blaze, Chaulk enjoyed an impressive junior career in his native Canada. He made 176 regular-season appearances in the Western Hockey League (WHL), 141 of them with the Swift Current Broncos, registering 58 points (27 goals, 31 assists).

After a successful half-season with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, he notched 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 35 games, Chaulk moved to the University of Regina in 2018-19, putting up 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists) in 59 USports appearances.

Now, he’s focussed on making his mark at the professional level for the first time.

“I think it’s a very underrated league,” Chaulk said of the Elite League, “it doesn’t get the recognition [it deserves] from a lot of other leagues, especially in Europe. The players are really good and the games are really fast.

“There’s a lot more skill and speed over here, especially because of the open ice and that obviously has its challenges for a guy that’s played North American hockey in a more structured way his entire life.”

Paperwork Trips to Birmingham

Chaulk’s sincerity is striking. Although he says what you would expect of an import new to the sport in the UK, there’s an enthusiasm to his tone that lights the lamp.

What’s more, he’s excited to have been sent to Coventry.

“I’m just a hop, skip, and a jump from the city centre,” he says, “and that’s really beautiful in there.”

Despite having little time to explore the city, the Saskatchewan skater is already starting to feel at home with his new team. Alex Forbes, on pace for the best season of his career, played the role of Birmingham tour guide last week, helping Chaulk finalise some paperwork.

On the ice, Janne Laakkonen, Coventry’s 39-year-old Finn, is a source of inspiration. Whether it’s at the rink or in the gym, Chaulk is a student of the game, always watching for the “habits” that help his teammates find success.

Conner Chaulk: ‘You pretty much always have a stick in

Being from the Great White North, Chaulk’s hockey story is familiar.

“You pretty much always have a stick in your hand in Canada,” he jokes, reflecting on his childhood, “that’s just the way it is when you grow up.”

During the festive season, the Chaulks were like many families across the country. They gathered around the TV to watch the World Juniors, a Canadian tradition, before heading to the outdoor rink to recreate the moves they saw on the box.

“It’s a pretty fun time,” Chaulk says of the quintessentially Canadian Christmases of his youth.

Conner Chaulk, Coventry Blaze (Image: Scott Wiggins)
Conner Chaulk, Coventry Blaze (Image: Scott Wiggins)

However, his focus for the next few months is on excelling at the Skydome Arena.

“Just briefly looking at the standings, I think it would be important to finish in the four or five spot,” Chaulk explains, studiously as ever. “That would set us up really nicely going into the playoffs and give us a chance to excel in the postseason.”

Chaulk, like his classmates back in Regina, is set for a stressful end to the term. Not only is he trying to graduate with honours from university; he’s also attempting to complete the jump from junior to senior hockey in a faraway land. However, if his assuredness of the ice is anything to go by, there’s every chance he’ll prosper in Coventry.

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