The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/13/11 at 04:51 AM ET
Red Wings player mentor and USA Hockey legend Chris Chelios joined the ranks of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame (at a ceremony held in Chicago) on Monday night, and he did so in classic Chelios fashion—with equal amounts of genuine and incredible humility and an almost gleeful willingness to admit that his unbridled passion for the game included a viciously competitive nature which led him to almost asphyxiate one of his fellow inductees. Here’s the gist of his induction speech, via the Associated Press...
“I’ve been surrounded by great players my whole career,” Chelios said during the induction ceremony Monday night. “But the most enjoyment I ever had was seeing the enjoyment of my friends and family when I played. I hope I entertained you,” Chelios said. “I couldn’t skate any more. I had to hang ‘em up.”
Chelios was one of five American hockey notables inducted Monday. He was joined by fellow defenseman Gary Suter, with whom he played at the University of Wisconsin and with the Chicago Blackhawks, forward Keith Tkachuk, Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider and broadcaster Mike Emrick. Chelios, a three-time Norris Trophy winner who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park, said his greatest moment in the game, aside from winning the Stanley Cup for the first of three times, was taking the ice to play for the gold medal in the 1992 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“You wanted to win the gold medal, but there was no disappointment (when Canada won),” Chelios said. “It was the best hockey I’ve ever been involved in.”
When Tkachuk once tangled with Chelios as an enemy of the Chicago Blackhawks, however, well…Here’s what Tkachuk told NHL.com’s Brian Hedger:
They each had a chance to congregate, chat about their careers with the media, give speeches and just generally enjoy a night in their honor. Earlier in the day, they all posed with the plaques that will commemorate what they’ve each done in the sport. And to think that one of those “fond” memories included the time in the old Chicago Stadium when one of the inductees (Chelios) nearly choked out one of the others (Tkachuk) with a vice-like headlock during a post-whistle scrum – respectfully, of course.
“I couldn’t breathe,” Tkachuk recalled, with a laugh. “I thought I was going to croak there. I was down to my last breath. He was strong for a little guy.”
Strong enough that Chelios made sure not to take it too far. After all, the two were teammates for Team USA during a number of international tournaments – including the Winter Olympics, Canada Cups and World Cup of Hockey showdowns.
“He jumped in the scrum late and I got him,” the smiling Chelios said of Tkachuk. “I saw his face turning colors and I let him go right at the last second. I could have made him pass out easy, though.”
Chelios’ boyhood hero while growing up on the south side of Chicago was the nasty Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus, who was known crossing the line in games.
“He didn’t hit like Dick Butkus,” Tkachuk quipped. “But he’d sure choke ya.”
Choke, spear, cross-check, slew foot, high stick in the face, elbow, knee, punch, tackle…
Suter on Chelios: “I think he actually had more little tricks than a professional wrestler that he could get you with.”
Also, wanted to confirm with Cheli, but he told me #Blackhawks have let him know they’re open to him returning in some capacity someday.
That said ... Chelios had nothing but praise for the Illitch family and the Red Wings organization where he currently works. #RedWings
Something tells me that the Wings aren’t going to let him go anywhere, and while Chelios gets sentimental about his Chicago ties, his family lives in Metro Detroit, his business interests are in Metro Detroit, and the Wings will probably accommodate his desire to coach via a position with the Grand Rapids Griffins at some point, if not an assistant’s spot with the Wings somewhere down the line.
While reminiscing about his time with the Blackhawks, Chelios made sure to point out that, in his day, very few U.S.-born players headed from college hockey to the NHL, as noted by the Chicago Sun-Times’ Ben Meyer-Abbott...
Chris Chelios’ father didn’t want his son to have to work in a restaurant like he did. The NHL, let alone a Hall of Fame career of any type, was never a dream they had while Chelios was growing up in Evergreen Park.
“[Hockey] was never a serious thing; I played for fun,” Chelios said Monday before being inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Renaissance Chicago hotel. “I worked in the [Greek] restaurants [he owned] with him. The only thing he told me was, ‘You’re going to college. You’re not going to do what I did for the last 50 years and end up cooking and cleaning a restaurant for the rest of your life. You’re going to get an education.’ ’’
Chelios’ love of the game and his father’s wishes took him to the University of Wisconsin before a remarkable 26-year NHL career that included a nine-year stint with his hometown Blackhawks.
“To be able to play for the Hawks was the luckiest break I could ever get,” Chelios said. “My only regret is not finishing it off and winning a Cup here.”
Chicago would be the only place Chelios didn’t win. He won Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986 and Detroit Red Wings in ’02 and ’08. Chelios also won the Norris Trophy three times as the league’s best defenseman, was a member of the U.S. team that won the 1996 World Cup and captained the United States to the silver medal at the 1998 Salt Lake City Olympics. But one of his fondest memories was being in his hometown for the 1991 All-Star Game during the Gulf War.
‘‘I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about the anthem,” Chelios said.
In the developmental vein, Chelios told the Chicago Tribune that there simply wasn’t much of an infrastructure for players to grow and compete against their peers in the U.S. in his day…
“In my generation of players, there weren’t a lot of kids who played organized hockey,” Chelios said. “Maybe a handful of us continued on to a college career. It wasn’t as easy as today. American kids were playing baseball and football, and developed a little later. So those two years you need to grow, physically, there wasn’t anywhere to play.”
That’s all changed now that the OHL and WHL have franchies in the U.S., the USHL, NAHL and National Team Development Program provide alternatives for college-bound Americans and high school and preparatory school programs have blossomed throughout the “northern tier.”
Chelios also spoke of the fact that he still feels somewhat estranged from the Blackhawks’ faithful while speaking to Comcast Sportsnet Chicago’s Tracey Myers, suggesting that his feting at Sunday’s Blackhawks-Sharks game might have involved boos instead of cheers if he hadn’t been introduced alongside Suter, Tkachuk and Snider:
“Yeah, it was good. They set it up so it was bullet-proof, putting all of us together at the same time,” Chelios said with a laugh.
Maybe, but it certainly sounded like that last rousing cheer, the one that came right after Chelios’ name was announced, was for him. It should have been, anyway. Because regardless of Chelios’ time with the Detroit Red Wings, he is still Chicago’s own. Chelios was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night, one night after he and the fellow inductees watched the Blackhawks beat the San Jose Sharks in overtime at the United Center. The last time Chelios was there, on his own Heritage Night, there were boos. He hopes eventually he’s welcomed back completely.
“I hope everyone can forgive me for the Detroit thing. I just wanted to play hockey and that was the best situation for me,” he said. “I’m one of their own. I hope they’re proud of me for what I accomplished as a Chicago kid.”
The Evergreen Park product should be remembered for the entire body of work: the Stanley Cups, the All-Star and Olympic appearances and the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. Oh, and that longevity that has fellow inductee Keith Tkachuk calling him the “godfather of U.S. hockey.” But Chelios said he deserves only so much credit.
“I don’t kid myself. People always ask, ‘How did you last so long?’ I was on great teams,” he said. “We won those Cups in Montreal… then to come to Chicago when things were going great, went to the finals and then Detroit, that was unreal to be traded to a team that won two (more) Cups. I wouldn’t have lasted that long if not for the skill level and success our teams had.”
And last night, at least, those cheers seem to have been for him.
“Last night saw about 30 friends I hadn’t seen in 35 years,” he said of his homecoming. “It’s amazing. They kept track of my career and how proud they were that one of their own had made it.”
USA Hockey’s website offered a few quips and quotes from the event...
“I’ve always said that from the 30 years I’ve played the most enjoyment I’ve had is seeing my friends and family and going on these trips,” said Chelios.
And the inductees’ feting at Sunday’s Blackhawks game…
While NHL.com posted a minute-and-a-half video of all the inductees…
And a Q and A with Chelios…
Comcast Sportsnet Chicago posted a video of the induction ceremony itself…
As did WXYZ (though it’s very, very short)...
And the Red Wings’ website posted a video of Chelios’s induction speech:
If you haven’t seen NHL.com’s career-spanning tribute to Chelios, it’s pretty darn cool…
And Montreal radio station CJAD 800 captured quite the quote from former Canadiens GM Serge Savard, who had this to say to CJAD’s Barry Morgan about trading Chelios to Chicago for Denis Savard in 1990:
I’ll never forget the day I met Denis Savard for the first time. It was in June of 1990, after he was acquired from the Blackhawks for Chris Chelios.
It was a thrill for me to meet one of the most exciting players in the game. Little did we know how short his time in Montreal would be and how much longer Chelios would play.
Savard spent three seasons with the Habs, his final year was in 1993 when they last won the Stanley Cup. Savard was behind the bench when the Canadiens beat L-A in game five to win their 24th title.(And of course, they haven’t won one since.)
Chelios didn’t retire until the 2009-2010 season.
I spoke today with former Canadiens general manager Serge Savard who pulled the trigger on the Chelios-Savard deal. He says it was “one of the biggest mistakes I made as a general manager.”
But Savard says he was told at the time that Chelios’ knees wouldn’t last very long. How wrong everyone was. His career ended more than 12 years after Denis Savard retired.
As for the Red Wings’ take on things, Chelios already spoke to the Wings and Hawks’ media at length this past weekend, and Ken Holland almost gushed about Chelios’s contributions to the Wings, both past and present.
The Red Wings’ Twitter accounts offered the following quips from a ceremony in which the wings’ brass was well-represented…
Here in attendance for Cheli’s induction are Mr. and Mrs. I, Ken Holland, Jim Nill, Ryan Martin and Kris Draper.
Holland: In 2002, we won the Stanley Cup. Cheli was 40 and he led the league in plus-minus. Finished second in the Norris Trophy voting.
Nick Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy in 2002. Chelios finished second.
Chris Chelios poses with the Ilitch family after being inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. http://twitpic.com/7slxvl/full
And Chelios spoke to Wings social media coordinator Jake Duhaime about his time with the Wings:
“You always remember your first Cup and that was special in Montreal,” Chelios said. “Then playing in the finals with Chicago was outstanding, and I really couldn’t have been in a better situation coming to Detroit. Salt Lake City though, winning a silver medal, being there as the lineups were announced for the gold medal game against Canada, looking around and seeing what we could have accomplished. Even though we ultimately won a silver medal, we didn’t disappoint anybody. It was some of the best hockey I have ever been a part of.”
Chelios’ career included a cameo in D2 – The Mighty Ducks, which helped launch an NHL franchise in Anaheim. His final game came with a team that no longer exists in Atlanta. And his Michigan legacy extends from the Red Wings front office, to Michigan State hockey, to Cheli’s Chili Bar, a popular destination for fans before games at Joe Louis Arena. If only we could all beat the clock the way Chelios has.
“He was still playing here at 47. He survived the test of time,” said his former Head Coach Mike Babcock. “He’s a warrior. One of the best penalty killers I’ve seen. He’s a good man. Teammates loved him.”
For Chelios, passing the torch [to younger players] isn’t just part of his legacy, but a job description. Now serving as an advisor to General Manager Ken Holland, his duties include watching the next generation of possible NHL talent, including his two sons, Dean and Jake, or coaching them, as he did as an assistant for Team USA at the Deutschland Cup last month.
“Last year, I was more management,” Chelios said. “This year, I decided I wanted to spend more time on the ice. At this point, I’m leaning towards coaching. You’re on the ice. You’re not playing, but it’s the next best thing.”
And that’s the link. For those like Chelios, Tkachuk,, Suter, along with fellow Americans Mike Richter, Brian Leetch, Bill Guerin, and Mike Modano, who took the Miracle and skated with it, this group can now relish in what they did, not just in trophies and medals, but in seeing the continued growth of the sport.
[The U.S. National Team] development program, stationed in Ann Arbor, didn’t exist before American born superstars like Chelios, dubbed by Tkachuk as ‘The Godfather of USA Hockey,’ redefined the sport and its meaning in this country.
“There are only two people who have ever made it big out of Evergreen Park,” Chelios joked of his upbringing. “Me and Ted Kaczynski, the Unibomber. There weren’t a lot of people in my generation of players who played hockey, at least organized hockey. It just wasn’t as easy to get to. Now you have a lot more realistic career options, or at least the opportunity to get into college because of hockey.”
Duhaime also spoke to Mike Emrick as he’s from Marysville, MI, but you can read that on your own as I know some of you aren’t big fans.
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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.