MONTREAL – After 26 seasons in the NHL, Chris Chelios is hanging up his skates for good.
Almost three decades after breaking into the league as a fresh-faced 22-year-old with the Canadiens, the defensive pillar has decided to call it a career. He may be retiring with 1,651 games under his belt – an all-time high amongst NHL blue-liners – but Chelios still remembers where it all began.
"I have been so fortunate to be on great teams and have great teammates throughout my whole career, starting with the Montreal Canadiens,” offered Chelios, who played his first seven years in Montreal. “I would like to thank [former Canadiens GM] Serge Savard for the support he showed me. He went to bat for me from day one.
“I will never forget my start. I had one point in my first 14 games with the Canadiens. I never even unpacked my bags because I thought I was going to the minors,” laughed the three-time Norris Trophy winner, including once with the Habs in 1989. “Serge Savard and [head coach] Jacque Lemaire kept playing me and I finally figured it out. It also didn't hurt that I had Patrick Roy behind me for the next six years, so thank you, Patrick – a good friend and teammate.”
Looking back at a career that includes four Olympics, 11 All-Star Game appearances, and three Stanley Cups, the 48-year-old Chicago native credits his former Habs teammates for first showing him the ropes.
“I played with the greats; Guy Lafleur, Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson – players who I respected and listened to,” described Chelios, who was voted co-captain of the Canadiens alongside Guy Carbonneau in 1989-90. “And of course there was Chris Nilan, a great friend who took me in like a son and protected me for the first six years I played with him.”
From the day the Habs drafted him 40th
overall in 1981 to his final game in the bleu-blanc-rouge in 1990, Chelios knew that helpful advice in his new NHL home was never more than a phone call away.
“I was sitting in bars and restaurants with legends – the Richard brothers, Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer – listening to their stories about when they played; what it took to win,” recalled Chelios. “How all of them put the team in front of any individual play.
“There was no selfishness in that group of players and I was learning from the best,” he concluded. “I always said playing for the Canadiens was like getting a Harvard degree in hockey and I was very fortunate to start my career there.”Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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