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The Malik Report

Red Wings exec Chris Chelios remembers his tenure with the Moose Jaw Canucks fondly

The Moose Jaw Warriors' website didn't cover this in detail, so I was hoping that it the story would be covered in some way, shape, or form, and sometime after I went to bed (which was so late it was early), the Moose Jaw Times-Herald discussed Red Wings executive Chris Chelios's return to the place where his journey to the NHL began in earnest as a member of the Moose Jaw...Canucks (now the Moose Jaw Warriors):

RedWingsFeed provides a link to the Moose Jaw Times-Herald's Matthew Gourlie's article about the unlikely detour that prevented a Chicago-to-San Diego transplant from ending his hockey career before it began:

Chelios had just been cut by the United States International University in San Diego — a team that was preparing for its first season of NCAA hockey. At the camp, he met former Canuck Bob Parker.

“Bobby Parker had come down there and made the team and I hadn’t,” said Chelios. “So I was just going to school. The team was training on the beach one day. I was out of hockey. I was playing senior hockey in the beer and pizza league. Bobby asked me where I was playing and I told him I was done and just going to school and working. He gave me the Canuck coach’s phone number.”

The Canucks coach, Larry Billows, didn’t immediately jump at the chance to add an unknown kid from California to his SJHL roster.

“I called and they said they wouldn’t fly me up because I had to pay and I didn’t have the money. Five or six days later Larry flew me up and the rest is history,” said Chelios. “Thank god Larry Billows gave me a shot. I think I was the only American in the league at the time. There were a couple of bad breaks for some other player and I got an opportunity. Thank god for Larry Billows, Bobby Parker and the Canucks.”

It turns out that Chelios wasn't always a defenseman, though that changed during his tenure in what was then the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League...

"I came to Moose Jaw just because I loved playing. For me Moose Jaw was pro. It was my first time being away from home and playing in front of big crowds. For me two or three thousand fans was huge. It was a great experience my two years here,” he said. “This was the most competitive hockey that I had played. It was tough that first year, especially switching from forward to defence the year I got out here. I was lucky. I had the chance to develop. I was still growing. (Billows) was patient with me. I made my fair share of mistakes, but he kept throwing me out there. Eventually the good out-weighed the bad.”

And after two sesaons in Saskatchewan, Chelios earned a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, and the rest is more familiar history:

The Montreal Canadiens drafted him 40th overall after his final season in Moose Jaw. He tallied 49 points in 43 games in this first year with the Badgers and two years later he was on the American team at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics and finished the season with the Canadiens as they went on a surprising run to the Wales Conference final.

“When you grow up in the States you have to be realistic. Getting to Moose Jaw, the NHL or pro was the furthest thing from my mind. Going to college was a goal. Once I accomplished that — and then after the way things went in my first year in Wisconsin — then it became a reality that I had a shot,” said Chelios.

Gourlie continues, and his article's a great read.

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.