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A well-deserved honor

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Nearly 30 years after taking his first strides with the Canadiens in the NHL, Chris Chelios is ready to take his place among the legends of hockey.

Recognized as one of hockey’s most consistent and effective defensemen at both ends of the ice for over two decades of NHL action, Chelios didn’t waste any time getting himself inducted in to the Hockey Hall of Fame, receiving the distinction in his first year of eligibility.

Chelios will become the 55th member of the Canadiens to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“It’s a great honor. Thank you to the committee; it’s one of the highest honors any athlete can receive. It’s thrilling and I’m really excited about this,” expressed Chelios, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside Scott Niedermayer, Brendan Shanahan, female hockey star Geraldine Heaney and former coach and general manager, Fred Shero. “Unfortunately no one was in my house when the call came. Everyone is either at a hockey camp or a lacrosse camp. I couldn’t share the news with anyone. Even though you know it’s coming, it was a big surprise when it really happened.”

Selected by the Canadiens in the second round, 40th overall, at the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, Chelios made his way into the league three years later for what would prove to be an exceptional professional career. While he may have only spent seven seasons as a Hab, also suiting up for the Blackhawks, Red Wings and Thrashers over the course of his time in the NHL, that didn’t stop him from making his mark on Canadiens history. Chelios still holds the team record for most points by a rookie defenseman with 64. He was also the first American-born player to ever wear the “C” for the Habs, and before P.K. Subban accomplished the feat a few weeks ago, he was the most recent Montreal player to win the Norris Trophy.

Although those achievements might date back to the 1980s, Chelios still admits today that his years with the Canadiens were among the most important of his 26 NHL campaigns – a record he shares with Gordie Howe.

“Like I’ve said numerous times, playing for Montreal was like a college experience going to Harvard. I came in and I got the chance to play with some veterans like Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson and Bob Gainey. They took me under their wings and I’ve learned from the best,” reminisced Chelios, who won the first of his three Stanley Cups with the Habs in 1985-86. “I was really fortunate. They’re really good hockey players but they’re great guys as well. To learn from the best you have to listen to them. That had a big influence on my career.”

When it’s time for him to officially be inducted into the Hall of Fame in a ceremony set to take place in November, Chelios will become the 55th member of the organization to receive the honor. In the wake of one of the most important distinctions of his career, the 51-year-old pointed out that the road he took wasn’t always an easy one – a fact that makes his current experience even sweeter.

“There’s probably no reason in the world that I should’ve played in the NHL because of where I grew up. Being from the restaurant business, no one was playing organized hockey in the neighborhood that I’m from,” explained Chelios, who grew up in a suburb of Chicago, IL. “I guess I was in the right place at the right time. I finally got my big break when I was 15 years old and went to play in Canada (for Moose Jaw in the SJHL). It was a crazy dream; it’s not like I was a kid growing up in a hot bed of hockey.”

And yet, he now finds himself immortalized among the best to ever play the game.

Hugo Fontaine is a writer for Translated by Justin Fragapane.

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