By Elizabeth Casey | Photo Contributions by Ross Dettman
Chris Chelios’ hockey journey began in Chicago, and after spanning 1,644 National Hockey League games – more than any other American-born player - it has brought him back to his hometown.
It would be easy to label his journey as coming full-circle – a decorated veteran returning home from battle to finally lay down his arms - but that’s not why Chelios has come back. He isn’t ready to shelve his skates. The 47-year-old defenseman returned to prove to the hockey world that he still has what it takes.
The Chicago Wolves are more than happy to help.
“It’s a mutual thing,” said Wolves General Manager Wendell Young, who signed the three-time Norris Trophy winner to a Professional Tryout Contract this week. “We’ll give him a platform to show NHL teams what he can do, and he can show leadership to our team.”
Chelios has played in 25 NHL seasons and made the playoffs in 24 of them. He has been a member of three Stanley Cup champion teams (Montreal 1986, Detroit 2002 and 2008), and played in the Stanley Cup Finals on three other occasions (1989, 1992, 2009).
He was named to the NHL’s First All-Star Team five times, and has participated in 11 NHL All-Star Games. He was named the first American-born captain of the Montreal Canadiens in 1989, served as the Chicago Blackhawks captain from 1995 to 1999, and captained Team USA in three Winter Olympics (1998, 2002 and 2006).
Perhaps even more inspiring than his resume is his attitude. The future Hall of Famer has no intention of resting on his laurels during his time here.
“I can bring some leadership and experience to all the young guys here, that’s been my role for the past four or five years in the NHL, but I’m here to help,” Chelios explained to reporters following his first practice with the Wolves at their practice facility in Hoffman Estates. “By no means am I only here to teach; I’m here to help the team win. I’ll contribute in my own way and I hope to add a little bit everywhere and contribute to all aspects of the team.”
Chelios consistently has contributed to winning teams throughout his career, something the Wolves hope will continue in Chicago. Even as the NHL’s oldest active player last season, Chelios skated in 28 games with the Detroit Red Wings squad, which battled into the Stanley Cup Finals before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7. The year before, he notched 12 points (3G, 9A) in 69 regular-season matchups and battled through 14 postseason tilts to help Detroit capture the 2008 Stanley Cup. Not too shabby for someone twice the age of many of his opponents.
Even so, Chelios knows he has to prove he’s still got it; thus his return to Chicago.
“I’ve got a big challenge to prove to myself and a lot of people that I can still play,” he told the media scrum that flocked to see him skate on Oct. 12. “The Wolves gave me a great opportunity. It’s going to be fun and I intend to have a good time with these guys.”
Young believes Chelios already is contributing to the team, just by joining it.
“It is an honor for us to have him,” Young said. “We are very excited to have someone of Chris’ stature on our team. He is an excellent example for our young players to be around and watch, both on and off the ice. He wants to be treated the same as everyone else.”
By all accounts, it appears Chelios actually feels like everyone else.
“Everyone who plays in this league here wants to get to the NHL,” he said, matter-of-factly. “My situation is I’ll wait a little bit and hopefully something will open up. Ultimately that’s my goal, but for now I’m going to get in shape here.”
Imagine being a 20-something Wolves player and hearing someone you watched hoist the Stanley Cup as a kid pragmatically state that he’s here to work. It might make you skate a little harder.
For the Atlanta Thrashers’ young prospects who make up the majority of the Wolves roster, the exposure to the veteran’s work ethic is an educational experience second-to-none, one that the organization hopes they will carry along their own hockey journeys.
As for Chelios, his hockey journey already has taken him all over the world, and if it’s up to him, it will take him more places still.
Perhaps he has heard the adage that sometimes taking a step back is the best way to move forward. Chicago ice rinks were the launching pad for the USA’s most-tenured NHL star once. Now, he’ll see if they can do it again.