"He's like, 'You have to come,' " Gretzky said Monday on the red carpet prior to the Hockey Hall of Fame inductions. "I'm like, 'OK, we'll be there.' So we're here."
Gretzky arrived with his wife Janet and two of his sons. But he also told Chelios what he was going to do when the now Hall of Fame defenseman was on stage delivering his speech Monday night, the first of five from inductees Chelios, Geraldine Heaney, Scott Niedermayer, Brendan Shanahan and the late Fred Shero (represented by his son, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero).
"I said, 'I'm coming there for all the times you hit me and hacked me,' " Gretzky said. "[I said], 'I'm going to count them out on my hands when you're up on stage. I'm just going to keep counting how many times you whacked me.' "
Gretzky was laughing by that point. He was laughing a lot during the 10 minutes he spent with the media shortly after 7 p.m. ET. He seemed genuinely happy to be at the Hall of Fame again and to have a chance to honor the class, including former Team Canada teammates Shanahan and Niedermayer.
"You know what? Listen, to make the Hockey Hall of Fame is really hard, you have to be a real special person because that's what makes special players," Gretzky said. "Everybody who is coming in, good for them, well-deserved. It's a great honor. When I was a kid, I used to come and just stare at all the equipment and the names. I got a chance to bring my 15-year-old son here and spend a couple of hours here. It's a wonderful place and everybody going in today is well deserved. It's a great honor not only for the players and athletes, but for the families."
Gretzky, though, seemed to have a special appreciation for Chelios. Maybe it had something to do with all the battles he had against him throughout his career.
The respect is evident.
"He's just a good man," Gretzky said. "Chris is one of those guys, and a lot of guys in the NHL like that, you call him, need a favor and he'll be there in the next heartbeat. There were only a couple of players in my career that I played against that were tough and mean that I was a little nervous about. Both of them, Mark Messier and Chris Chelios, every time they hit me they'd tell me, 'Gretz, I'm behind you.'
"I have a great deal of respect for [Chelios]. He was a great player."