Chris Chelios did it all in his hockey career. He won three Stanley Cups and three Norris Trophies as the league’s top defenseman. He was a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer and winner of the prestigious Mark Messier Leadership Award. And he was a four-time Olympian (thrice as Team USA’s captain), an NCAA champion, a gold medalist at the original World Cup of hockey and played a record-tying 26 NHL seasons.

But there is no Chris Chelios as we know today without the city of Chicago — a local outdoor rink, a handful of neighbors in Evergreen Park, a trip to Ace Hardware by his mother Susan, and a fortunate relationship his father Gus had with several Blackhawks players of the 60s.

That’s where Chris Chelios, the hockey player, was born.


A young Chris Chelios and his mother, Susan, and father, Gus


Growing up in Evergreen Park, a suburb south of Chicago, the Chelios family lived a simple life. Gus, Chris’ father, was a Greek immigrant who was in the restaurant business – still a staple of the Chelios family today.

“The whole neighborhood, I don't think there was a family that had less than five kids,” Chelios said of his early days. “We had a park over a 99th Street that we would walk over to, like six, seven blocks away, because I (lived) on 101st Street. (And in the wintertime), all the kids in the neighborhood would skate and I started as goalie because I had no skates — so I was playing goalie with boots on.”

That was until Susan, his mother, made an impulse buy that kickstarted it all.

“I had gone to Ace Hardwood store one day in Evergreen Park, and they had a table that had different things on sale,” Susan said for an upcoming episode of Every Shift. “I saw a pair of skates there on the table, and they were $5. And I thought, ‘Well, Chris will grow into them.’ So I bought them.”

The skates from Ace Hardware were too big, but Susan helped to make them work, putting her son in extra pairs of socks and stuffing cotton in the cavernous toe so he could get on the ice.

Around the same time, though, Gus had gotten to know a handful of Blackhawks players who would stop into his bar. From time to time, the players gave him tickets, and from there the Chelios family’s love of the game grew.

“I don't know if he necessarily loved hockey, my dad, but he loved the players and they started giving him tickets to games. And he immediately fell in love with it and wanted me to play, allowed me to play,” Chris said. “Up to that point he really wasn't — we didn't have the money up at the time. And it was something, my father being a Greek immigrant, you know, there's work, not hockey.”

Go inside Chris Chelios' childhood in suburban Chicago with his mother, Susan

It wasn’t often that Gus got tickets to the game, but when he did, young Chris was usually in tow, remembering his first game “like it was yesterday, Bobby Hull got a hat trick.” He was instantaneously hooked.

“Mom got those skates and I just started skating as much as I could in the wintertime. And when the next winter rolled along, he decided to put me on a team. So I went tried out in Lake Meadows, and my first team was the Chicago Saints in Willow Springs. Started at nine years old in organized hockey and just kind of climbed up the ladder from peewee to bantam... I didn't have any intentions of anything else except that I loved skating on that outdoor park. Eventually getting into organized hockey and youth hockey, I just was really lucky.”

And then, the Chelios family uprooted and moved across the country to San Diego. Chris was 15 years old, and, as he put it, his hockey career nearly ended.

“Pretty much ended my hockey, as far as anything competitive,” he said. “There was no hockey out there at the time.”

Knowing his son’s love of the game, Susan recalled, Gus bought a restaurant in San Diego that was 10 minutes away from a rink so that Chris could stay involved in the sport, even if the landscape had changed drastically.


Chelios (back row, far right) and his high school hockey team at Mt. Carmel High School

Driven by his love for the game, two years later, Chris eventually found his way to Canada, and made it onto the Moose Jaw Canucks roster in 1979, a Junior B team in Saskatchewan where he was the only American-born player on the roster and one of three in the entire league. In two seasons in Moose Jaw, Chelios in logged 131 points (35G, 96A) and 295 penalty minutes in 108 games — showing shades of the bruising blueliner he would become.

“Quite honestly, I was undersized and I had so many people telling me that I was too small to play. So I was realistic. I was playing because I loved playing. I wasn't playing because my dream was to be in the NHL,” he said, noting that in his two seasons in Saskatchewan he grew two inches, a self-described late bloomer. “After my second year in Moose Jaw, all I was ever told or asked by my parents was to get go to college. So it became reality to at least go to college and get a scholarship, I got to that point.”

Chelios was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, but still didn’t think the NHL was realistically in his future. He committed to play at North Dakota — where he would’ve been a teammate of future fellow Blackhawk Troy Murray — but the day after signing his letter of intent, the team also signed James Patrick, a rival from his days in Moose Jaw.

“I just didn't feel like there was enough room for both of us on that team, meaning the opportunity for ice time. And I picked North Dakota because it was closest to Moose Jaw, quite honestly, and they had a great school. When they signed James Patrick, I immediately asked [North Dakota head coach] Gino Gasparini and said, ‘Listen, I'm not coming there,’ and he was great about it. He ripped up a letter of intent.”

With the search back on for a college program to join, Chicago was at the top of Chelios’ mind — or as close to Chicago as you can get playing Division I hockey.

“I figured that Wisconsin was as close to Chicago as you're gonna get,” he said of quickly flipping his commitment to the school just two hours north. “You had Badger Bob Johnson coaching, [assistant coach] Grant Standbrook had recruited me. That (factored) into it too that at least people from Chicago would be able to see that I'm playing still. They had no idea where I went when I moved to San Diego, I just disappeared for four years.”


Chelios at the University of Wisconsin


In two years at the University of Wisconsin, the defenseman — who played forward his entire career up until he arrived in Moose Jaw two years earlier — went from a kid just playing the game he loved to a legitimate star. Standbrook took the raw talent Chelios possessed as a 19-year-old freshman and molded him into the game-changing blueliner that he would become known for.

“He was the guru,” Chelios said of Standbrook, who worked right under legendary Wisconsin head coach Bob Johnson. “He taught me how to play defense in the two years in Wisconsin.”

Chelios led Wisconsin in assists in his freshman season — 43 in 43 games played — as the team captured the WCHA title and finished runners up to North Dakota in the NCAA title game. That season, he also captained the U.S. squad at the U20 World Junior Championship, hosted in the U.S. for the first time in Minnesota. In year two, Wisconsin captured the 1983 NCAA Championship and Chelios again shined as a stalwart on the blue line, named to the all-tournament team.

As one of the top players in college hockey, Chelios was pegged for the 1984 Olympic roster for the U.S. — a team that finished a disappointing seventh in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia coming off the heels of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, but featured a litany of fellow future NHL stars like Pat LaFontaine, Al Iarate and Eddie Olczyk. It was the precipice of an entire generation of Americans taking over the NHL — at the time made up of nearly 80% Canadians — spurned by the success of that 1980 team.

“I was right on that cusp of Americans starting to get noticed and recognized and I’m really lucky that it worked out the way it did,” he said.


Chelios playing for Team USA at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City

It was also at that time that Chelios realized the NHL was a legitimate possibility: “I started thinking, ‘OK, I’ve got a shot at this, maybe someday I'll play for an NHL team.’”

After the Olympics, he joined the Canadiens for the final 12 games of the regular season and another 15 playoff contests, getting a taste of the NHL and a wake-up call to where he needed to take his game to become an everyday player in the league. “I was terrible,” as he bluntly put it.

“I always said it was like getting a Harvard degree. I had the greatest leaders in hockey,” Chelios said of his early years in Montreal. “Serge Savard retired [and was named General Manager]. Jacques Lemaire ended up being my coach. I had Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Guy Lafleur, all these guys that had had so much success, won the Stanley Cup. So I did what I've done my whole life: I just shut my mouth and listened and learned. And fortunately enough I had the right people showing me the game and teaching me the game.”

In his first full season in 1984-85, he was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. A year later, the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. And by the 1988-89 season, Chelios had grown into the league’s top defensive force, winning the Norris Trophy for the first time, leading the iconic franchise in assists (58) and second in penalty minutes (185) during the regular season before tying for the team lead in playoff points (19) in 21 games as Montreal fell in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Calgary Flames. 

That offseason, longtime Canadiens captain Bob Gainey retired and the Original Six franchise named their 27-year-old American defenseman team captain. In the French-Canadian-speaking market, it was an honor for Chelios, but also an enormous amount of pressure.

“Quite honestly, I wasn't ready to be captain of Montreal,” he said. “It affected my game, my personality. I just wasn't ready. And we split the captaincy with Guy Carbonneau, which was great, because otherwise I would have had a real bad time. Carbo was great friend of mine and he could handle the French speaking and all that. So we rotated as captain. But still, I wasn't performing like I should have and I wasn't mature enough.”


Chelios as team captain for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1989-90 season

That season, the Canadiens bowed out of the playoffs in the second round, and Chelios knew something was bound to change — that was simply the nature of the beast in a market like Montreal, “either a coach was going to get fired or a player was going to get traded.” He had heard rumors that the team was worried about the longevity of his knee after playing only 53 games that season, and he saw the writing on the wall that his time was up in Quebec.

“[General Manager] Serge Savard was my biggest supporter in Montreal, and I thank my lucky stars because he told me it was between going to Winnipeg or Chicago,” he recalled.

As it turned out, Chelios headed home — traded to the Blackhawks along with a second-round pick in exchange for fan-favorite Denis Savard in a blockbuster move during the summer of 1990.

“I get the call from Serge. And the minute I get off the phone from Serge Savard, I call (my mom) and my dad up, they were in San Diego, and I said, 'Let's go, you're moving back to Chicago,” he said. “So within months, we moved everybody back -- my sisters, everybody came back from San Diego.”

The excitement for Chelios to return home was unmatched.

“That first game, I’ll never forget, I had a goal, assist and a fight,” he said. “Growing up in Chicago, being at the Hawks games, I was like a lion coming out of a cage. And it was it was too good to be true the way things went my first year there.”



Chicago was arguably the greatest sports town in the country in the early ‘90s — led by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls winning a trio of titles from 1991-93, and a Blackhawks team revitalized with the arrival of the hometown kid Chelios. In his first season at home, the Blackhawks won the Presidents’ Trophy as the best team in the regular season and then made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals a year later in the Spring of 1992.

“I just remember every other night, it was us or the Bulls in the old Stadium,” Chelios said. “They won their first one in '91 and we are going head-to-head in the finals when we got beat by Pittsburgh (in '92). I'm not saying that now's not a great time or the 80s weren't great, but to be in my hometown and have those competitive teams go to the finals, have some great playoffs… it was amazing. The city was on fire.”

Of course away from the Stadium, there were some iconic stories of the true friendship between the Blackhawks and Bulls, too.

“Not to name drop, but MJ me became really good friends and spent a lot of days with them, a lot of nights of them. On the road, we'd run into them a couple times, we crossed paths with the Bulls,” he said.

“We all used to gather at Martini Ranch, everybody knew there was a one night a week that they didn't play and we didn't play. And we'd go there, shoot pool and have some fun. And then I think the most memorable night with a Bulls was in Vancouver. We had a game in Vancouver and they were there, and they had to play the next day, but every one of them was out with us till three in the morning, shooting pool at a place called The Roxy. They got beat the next day by Vancouver and Scottie Pippen said 'That'll ever happen again. We were out with the Blackhawks last night.' And we all got in trouble because we all broke curfew. We got in trouble, because Pippen had said that in the paper.”

Cheli-Jordan copy

Michael Jordan, Chris Chelios and a young Caley Chelios a shoot around before a Chicago Bulls game

Beyond the fun, the Chelios family was whole again, all back together in their hometown. Gus and Susan were at every game to watch their son play and Chris was an iconic part of the city, recognized wherever he went.

“That was something that we dreamt of from the day that he went pro,” Susan said of Chris. “We always wished that he played for the Blackhawks. And when it happened, I mean we were just thrilled. That was the icing on the cake — (our) hometown and all the relatives and friends (getting) to see our son playing at the Stadium and the Wirtz family are great people and always treated us the best.”

“We we're one big happy family again. It was amazing,” Chris added. "My dad, he connected again with everybody that he knew. You know, he'd been out in San Diego for a while at that point, since ’76, he couldn't wait to get back. And the fact that he loved the Blackhawks, too, and that I was playing for them, he couldn't have been more proud.

“It's one thing to play in the NHL, but then to play in your hometown also, where all your friends, your coaches, everybody — your school teachers… The fans, they've been treating me unbelievably. I'm one of those and they showed me that.”

Year after year, the Blackhawks paced the NHL in the early ‘90s, posting a league-leading 132 regular-season wins and a .613 point percentage in Chelios’ first three seasons in the competitive Norris Division — edging the rival Detroit Red Wings to the division title two of the three years. From there, the team continued to make the postseason every year, but never enjoyed the same success of the first years with Chelios in town. In 1995, Chelios was again named a team captain, this time of his hometown Blackhawks — an honor that is few and far between in professional sports — and wore the ‘C’ for four seasons from 1995-99.

The defenseman remains one of the most decorated in team history — fourth all-time among club defenseman in assists (395) and points (487) and career games (644), and is fifth in goals (92) with the Blackhawks. He also remains the team’s all-time leader in penalty minutes (1,495).

During his nine seasons in Chicago, the team was never able to reach the ultimate pinnacle of a Stanley Cup, a fact that remains the one hole in Chelios’ resume.

“It meant everything to my dad to wear the ’C’ for the Blackhawks as a hometown kid,” his daughter and Blackhawks broadcaster Caley Chelios recalled to the Every Shift crew. “To this day, he’s had so much success, but it absolutely kills him that he never won the Cup here and lost to Pittsburgh in the final. He is like, ‘You don’t know how much that hurt me.”


A Chicago Sun-Times sports page when Chelios signed a three-year contract extension in Chicago in 1996

After the 1995-96 season, the organization started to undergo a period of change. Mainstays like Jeremy Roenick and Ed Belfour were traded away in back-to-back years, and veterans like Savard, who returned five seasons after being traded, and Brent Sutter retired in back-to-back offseasons. At the end of the 1997-98 campaign, the Blackhawks missed the NHL postseason for the first time in 29 years (with the NHL expanding from 12 to 26 teams in the same frame).

Soon, Chelios found himself on the way out as well, traded to the division-rival Red Wings during the 1998-99 season.

“We kind of fell off a little bit, and then it was time for me, because I just couldn't carry the load anymore… I just assumed that's where I’d be the rest of my career,” he said. “But things change quick. I couldn't have been happier to get to Chicago and I wanted it to last forever. I really did.”


Chris Chelios wearing the 'C' for the Blackhawks in the 1996-97 season

For as excited as Chelios was to be traded to Chicago nearly nine years prior, it was hard to leave his hometown team.

On the ice, he joined a franchise coming off back-to-back Stanley Cups, one gearing up for an attempt at a three-peat the year after Jordan and the Bulls did so for the second time within the decade. But off the ice, Chicago was home.

“I just got really lucky that I went to Detroit,” he said. “It was close to Chicago, and I had a sister who was fighting cancer. It made it easy for me to get back and forth to see my family.”

“I don't have any recollection of how tough it was, but when I talk to my parents now, it's almost like trauma, how hard it was for my mom,” said Caley, who was born in Chicago and was just five years old at the time the family moved to Michigan.

At the end of the 1998-99 season, the Red Wings played their final game of the regular season in Chicago, Chelios’ first as a visitor since the trade. Every time he touched the puck that night, the crowd booed him, and he ended up leaving the game before it was over.

“It wasn't pleasant memories being booed… I think it was a tough transition, obviously the nature of the trade,” Caley continued. “My mom had said they thought it was just going to be a couple of years that we were going to be in Detroit and that would be that. And he’d retire, come back home. He'd just come off an injury, and then he ended up having a second life and career in Detroit. That ended up being our new home for 15 years or so.”


Chelios ended up playing another decade in Detroit, winning two more Stanley Cups in the franchise’s heyday.

Like he always does, Chelios made it back to Chicago before his playing career ended, skating a season with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves in 2009-10 and earning one last NHL run before the season’s end — a seven-game stint with the Atlanta Thrashers. After that season, he officially called it a career, capping 26 NHL seasons and 29 as a professional hockey player. His 1,651 NHL games are the all-time mark among American-born players and ninth all-time in the league record books.

He joined the Red Wings front office in August of 2010, and served in a variety of roles for the team from senior advisor to assistant coach through the 2017-18 season.

But it was time to come back to Chicago.

In July 2018, it was announced that the hometown kid was returning as a Blackhawks Ambassador alongside some of the franchise’s all-time greats — Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito, Bobby Hull and his once-traded-for counterpart Denis Savard.

“Chicago is my hometown and returning to this organization is very special to me and my family,” he said at the time.


And for the second time in his life, the Chelios family moved home. Caley, who was working for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and her husband moved back to Chicago in 2021 to be closer to family, joining the Blackhawks broadcast team. With two kids, and a third due any day, being close to family is the ultimate reward.

“Being able to spend the last three years here with our kids and our parents so close, I'll never take for granted having such a close family and being able to share memories,” she said.

Chris and his wife Tracee are building a new home in Chicagoland that’s “souped up for kids,” as Caley described it, ready for another generation of the Chelios family to be raised in, and call Chicago home.

On Sunday afternoon, Chelios’ Blackhawks legacy will be cemented when his No. 7 is retired to the rafters of the United Center. Aside from being able to bring a Stanley Cup home, it’s the ultimate honor for a Chicago hockey icon, and was one of the last acts late Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz set into motion before his passing this past summer.

“To me, it's the most special thing,” Chelios said of having his jersey retired by his hometown team. “There's a handful of guys that have ever had that. The only guys come to mind right now is [Mark] Messier in Edmonton.. and then [Chicago Bears captain] Dick Butkus.”

“Winning a cup with a Blackhawks would've been the ultimate dream to bring that to the city,” Caley said. “But this is the next best thing, I think, for him as far as what it means to him emotionally, and in his career.”

It will undoubtedly be an emotional night for the Chelios family, not reflecting on their son’s career accomplishments, but also a big part of his story who won’t be there. Chris’ father Gus passed away in 2017.

“I think he would probably be in awe probably thinking, ‘Hey, my grandkids and my great-grandkids are going to see my son's name up there,’ ” Susan said. “That's something that he hoped and prayed for a long time. Unfortunately, he didn't make it to see it, but I'm sure he'll be watching, and he'll be thrilled over it.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to breakdown (in the moment)… I am just proud of everything that he's accomplished because I know how hard he worked for it,” she continued. “He deserves everything he gets. He really worked hard and he loved the game so much.”

The Blackhawks announce that the team will retire Chr