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Cheeseman is back on skates after difficult injury recovery

Jeff Cheeseman

Nov. 19, 2006

By LINDA BOUVET, LSSU Sports Information Director

Former Laker forward Jeff Cheeseman treasures every moment on the ice since suffering a career-ending injury in 2003. Six surgeries and hundreds of hours of rehab later, Cheeseman is back on the ice, coaching and serving as director of hockey for the city of Pelham, Ala. -- an up-and-coming suburban youth hockey program with 225 players.

Cheeseman played at LSSU from 1996-00 and enjoyed four professional seasons with Central Hockey League and Western Professional Hockey League teams. He totaled 36 goals and 42 assists in 121 professional games. During the first week of practice during the 2003-04 season with the Alabama Slammers of the now-defunct World Hockey Association 2, he fractured both bones in his leg, at 90 degrees and just above his skate. Because the league folded that same year, he received no insurance or compensation, and wound up $97,000 in debt.

After the team evicted him from his apartment and he was threatened to be blackballed from hockey if he hired a lawyer, Cheeseman was taken in by a good friend named Valerie, who worked in the Slammers' front office at the time. They fell in love.

"We're doing alright," noted Cheeseman of he and his now wife, Valerie, who helped him through the tough times. "We swept it under rug as best we could. The new job helps settle my mind. Going through all this -- six months in a chair and picking up marbles with my toes -- gave me a lot of time to sit and think about things we take for granted every day. It made me appreciate everything I've been blessed with, especially hockey and my strong family background...I wouldn't have been able to get this job if hadn't graduated from university. The college route was a decision I made at age 17. Going through the program at Lake State, learning discipline, respect and lot of things that are not really asked of you as junior player, these are things I've taken with me in into pro hockey and the work force."

Cheeseman's most-recent surgery was June 1, 2006. He has surprised himself in regaining 90-percent mobility in his leg and the ability to wear skates again after doctors put in a 9-inch plate and 13 screws. "I'm not supposed to be doing the things I am doing," he said. "It's because of keeping myself in the shape I did as a Laker."

Financially, Cheeseman is putting his life back together little by little. He had to drop his lawsuit because of the inability to collect damages from a company that no longer exists.

These days, he is running youth clinics and leagues, teaching private lessons and serving as an assistant coach for the University of Alabama Frozen Tide club hockey team. He occupies the office of his former Slammers' coach in the rink where he suffered his injury.

"I'm an absolute rink rat," Cheeseman said. "They haven't had anyone with a real hockey background involved in program before. They were trying to compete with Atlanta and Nashville, whose programs are strong and growing every year. Want to take Pelham from a small-market to big-market program. Our squirt team won Silver Sticks, and our midget travel team is very good."

Cheeseman told The Hockey News that he is thrilled to be able to give something back to hockey despite what hockey has taken from him. "I'm now a firm, firm believer there is some sort of path laid out for you," he said. "There's definitely a reason why I ended up down here and what I went through to have this opportunity."

Lake Superior State Men's Ice Hockey
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