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US Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Chris Chelios, the greatest US-born player ever?

Updated with 2 stories in which Chelios actually speaks at 7:52 AM, Sunday morning: On Monday in Chicago, Red Wings player mentor and former Wings, Blackhawks, Canadiens and Thrashers defenseman Chris Chelios will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, and the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Rosenbloom suggests that the US HHOF is welcoming its ultimate inductee:

I don’t know what USA Hockey plans to say about Chris Chelios on Monday night. I’m not sure how the nation’s governing ice hockey body will describe Chelios when it inducts him into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in his hometown of Chicago. But it doesn’t get any simpler.

Greatest American hockey player ever. There have been better U.S.-born skaters, and the truth is, Chelios struck me as one of the clunkiest skaters among great players I’ve ever seen. There have been better U.S.-born passers and stick-handlers among defensemen, and there have been U.S.-born players with harder shots and more goals and more points.

But there never has been a better U.S.-born player than Chelios because there never has been another American who combined skill, smarts, leadership, toughness and longevity the way Chelios did.

Continued, and thanks to Paul for the link…

Update: Chelios discussed his induction with the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema when he visited the Griffins’ youngsters...

“It just kind of hit me from out of nowhere,” he said. “When you think hall of fame, you think the NHL Hall of Fame and I don’t think that the U.S. Hall of Fame ever gets the attention that maybe it deserves. You don’t really hear too much about it. I started calling my friends, like Jeremy (Roenick) and Brett (Hull), and asked them if they had been inducted. I found out after the fact, maybe because I was playing.”

Chelios retired in 2010 after a standout 26-year NHL career that included three Stanley Cup championships and three Norris Trophies as the league’s top defenseman. An induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto is certain to follow in a couple years. He also took part in four Olympics, and won a silver medal at Salt Lake in 2002, a moment he counts as one of his career highlights.

“The Olympics in Salt Lake probably was the best hockey that I’ve ever been involved with, as far as being in your home country, representing your country and winning a silver medal,” he said. “We came up a little short, but to be one of 24 guys to win an Olympic medal, I don’t know many guys that can say that in the history of U.S. hockey.”
“There’s been some great players over the history of the U.S.,” he said. “It’s like trying to compare (Wayne) Gretzky to (Mario) Lemieux or (Steve) Yzerman to (Peter) Forsberg. Once you get into that level, it’s apples and oranges. It’s all the same, just different players. For me to be considered a hall of famer for the U.S.-born players, for me that’s unbelievable.”
These days, Chelios is a regular figure at Griffins practices, working with Red Wings prospects for the second year in a row. He also represented the U.S. as an assistant coach at the Deutschland Cup in November in Germany, where he worked with the team’s defensemen and the penalty kill. Along with watching his sons, Dean and Jake, play at Michigan State, Chelios has no intention of leaving the game anytime soon. He’s just not sure if one day he’ll find himself in a head coach or general manager role.

“I’m really enjoying it. I don’t really know what capacity, whether it’s management or coaching, but I think I’m leaning toward coaching,” Chelios said. “I like being on the ice, I don’t like the political side of it with management. But I don’t want to jump the gun too early. It’s still pretty new to me.”

And Chelios also spoke to the Buffalo News’s Bucky Gleason from Lansing on Saturday night, where he was watching Dean and Jake play against the University of Michigan as the Spartans and Wolverines tangled in the back end of a home-and-home series:

“To get this in Chicago, where it all started, it’s pretty special,” Chelios said by telephone Saturday. “Apparently this is going to be the biggest one ever. It’s great to have an inductions ceremony in a great city, a great hockey city. Everybody is going to be there. It couldn’t be any better for me.”

Just so you know, Chelios heard all the catcalls coming from the gold and blue seats in Memorial Auditorium back in the 1980s. He broke into the NHL in 1983-84—more than six years before Tyler Myers was born—and established his tough, aggressive style. Years later, after hearing from fans across the league, he had a message for them.

“I earned a name for myself chasing [Alexander] Mogilny and [Phil] Housley and those guys,” he said. “Buffalo, Boston, Philly, they wanted my head on a platter. But when I played for the U.S. team, they cheered me. I just want to thank people across the U.S. for showing their support for an American.”

Chelios is widely regarded as the best American-born defenseman in history after building a 26-year career that included 1,651 games, three Stanley Cups and three Norris trophies. He’s known as the Godfather of USA Hockey who helped build the program and paved the way for many. He played on 11 national teams, including four Olympics. He’s a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

“The most gratifying thing I get out of receiving this honor is all the people who played a role in it, my friends, family, coaches, teammates,” Chelios said. “I’ve gotten more calls from people than I ever imagined. For them, one of their own, they’re just as proud of me as I am of getting it. That’s what it’s all about for me.”

Chelios, who has been working the last two seasons under Red Wings GM Ken Holland while helping coach young defensemen in Grand Rapids, was a consummate leader who played for the Canadiens, Blackhawks and Red Wings before persistent knee problems forced him to end his career with the Thrashers in 2009-10. His longevity is more incredible when you consider his rough-and-tumble style on the ice. He played just as hard off the ice early in his career and still managed to be one of the best D-men in history. He won his last Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2007-08, when he was 46.

“I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but it’s pretty amazing,” Chelios said. “I would have been the last guy who would have thought I would play this long and play for four Olympic teams. ... It’s genetics. I was really lucky. It takes one shot to screw up a career. I was lucky that it never happened to me.”

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w2j2's avatar

Chelios was a great player, had tremendous “heart”, and was tough as nails.

Posted by w2j2 on 12/11/11 at 11:30 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

I don’t know if he was the greatest US-born hockey player ever because I’m too young to have seen the Miracle on Ice and what led up to it, but I sure as hell know that Cheli was and is one of the most passionate hockey players to ever lace up skates.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 12/11/11 at 02:35 PM ET


The US Miralce on Ice (both of them-the one from the 60s too) was played by amateur players so the odds for them to become the greatest American ever would certainly have been against them.  They were fairly no-name guys as far as the pursuit of the greatest American hockey player ever goes.

I think Chelios is probably comes in first over Leetch and Mark Howe with Frank Brimsek and one of a bunch of forwards like Lafontaine, Modano, LeClair, and Roenick rounding out the top 5.

Posted by JBM on 12/11/11 at 04:16 PM ET

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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.