(MCT) CHICAGO — Growing up in Evergreen Park the son of a restaurant owner and then moving to Southern California at 15 isn’t a typical path to the NHL.
But it is the trail Chris Chelios followed through 26 seasons in the league and into the Valhalla of the sport, the Hockey Hall of Fame, on Tuesday.
“As I look back now, there’s probably no reason in the world I should have played in the NHL because of where I grew up,” Chelios said moments after it was announced he is among the Class of 2013 to be inducted into the Hall in Toronto on Nov. 11. “Being in the restaurant business (and) no hockey players, at least playing organized hockey, from my neighborhood . . . it’s a crazy journey, that’s for sure. It’s not like I grew up in a hotbed of hockey.”
Shorter than 6 feet and skinny, Chelios also wasn’t the kind of physical specimen that generated much faith from hockey coaches who were wary of the talent level of a kid from the suburbs of Chicago. Trips to Canada proved fruitless as Chelios tried out for but failed to make two Junior B teams and even was cut from a team in San Diego after about a month on the roster.
Then a chance meeting on the beach with a player from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, delivered the phone number of a coach in the Canadian province and “the rest was history,” Chelios said.
Make that big-time history as no defenseman or American player appeared in more NHL games. Each time Chelios, now 51, took the ice in those 1,651 contests, he did so with a passion for the sport developed while growing up in the Chicago area.
The three-time Norris Trophy winner was among three players inducted into the Hall on Tuesday, joining Scott Niedermayer and Brendan Shanahan. For Chelios, the honor caps a playing career spanning from Mount Carmel (Ill.) High School to the University of Wisconsin to four NHL teams _ including nine seasons with the Blackhawks during the 1990s. Chelios also was a member of the Red Wings, Canadiens and Thrashers before retiring in 2010 at 48 with 185 goals and 763 assists. He was an 11-time NHL All-Star, a member of three Stanley Cup champions and represented the United States in four Olympics.
“He’s the best American-born player ever,” said former Hawks teammate and fellow member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Eddie Olczyk. “He played any way he wanted _ skill, tough, dirty. And he was a winner.”
“I’m always going to say I’m from Chicago and I’m proud of that fact that I was raised (there),” said Chelios, who is an adviser for the Wings. “That’s where I played all my youth hockey. Detroit has been my home now for the last 13 years and I love it.”