DETROIT - Chris Chelios
never has played in a seventh game of a Stanley Cup Final during his 24 NHL seasons. He doesn't expect that to change when his Detroit Red Wings
face the Pittsburgh Penguins
on Friday night.
But for Chelios, this Game 7 isn't about him. Chelios, 47, the oldest player in the game today, already has celebrated three Stanley Cup titles over his career -- and he'll be Detroit's biggest fan Friday night.
"Obviously, I want to play, but I'm realistic too," Chelios said. "We have one of the best teams in the League and some young guys coming up and it's bound to happen sooner or later. But I had an opportunity to play six games (in the postseason) and help out a little bit, and there's no other 47-year-old doing it in the League, so I'm just going to hope and pray that things work out and I'll be rooting just like the rest of our fans."
That mentality has endeared Chelios to management and his teammates.
wants the team to win, first and foremost," Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland told NHL.com. "He'd like to be a part of it, but as long as the team wins and the other players are getting bigger roles and responsibilities, he's OK with it. I think he understands going into Game 7 that our best lineup, unfortunately, doesn't include him. But he's OK with that -- he just wants the team to win."
Chelios, who was acquired by Detroit from Chicago in March 1999, is sixth on the all-time games played list (1,644) and first among active players, first among American-born players and first among defensemen. The three-time Norris Trophy winner was re-signed by Detroit to a one-year deal last September.
"Cheli is huge in all aspects," hard-hitting defenseman Niklas Kronwall
said. "He's a leader for this group whether he plays or not. He says things and has a calming influence because he's been through the wars and we respect that in him. He might not walk around the room and joke like Homer (Tomas Holmstrom
), but Cheli has a great sense of humor and is a phenomenal person. That's why he fits so well with this organization."
Chelios is also a go-to guy for teammates who need some help or advice.
"He stepped in and contributed during the playoffs and was big," fellow defenseman Brett Lebda
said. "To me, personally, he's a guy I can go to when frustrated or need some help. He always has an answer for you, so ever since I came into the League, he has helped me tremendously as he does for our entire team."
Despite the fact he almost certainly won't be in the lineup, Chelios is looking forward to a fantastic finale to the NHL season. In 266 career playoff games, Chelios has 31 goals, 144 points and 423 penalty minutes.
"Just to be a part of the atmosphere (in Game 7) is going to be great," Chelios said. "Obviously, I've never played in a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, but I can tell you our team is happy to be playing this one at home. It's going to be a heck of a night for the people in Detroit -- we're in a great situation here. If you told me we'd be in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final at the beginning of the year, I'd take it any day."
Chelios did play one period in the Bridgestone Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Jan. 1, finishing 1:57 of ice time in his five shifts. He was thrilled to have the opportunity of a lifetime in his hometown. In that contest, the Wings rallied from a 3-1 first-period deficit to score a 6-4 victory. That's the type of fight Chelios has seen from this team throughout the entire season.
"I like to think every time we faced adversity, we were up to the challenge -- and Game 7 is yet another opportunity," Chelios said. "I'm not saying we can turn the switch on whenever we want, but it seems like when our backs were against the wall this year, we found a way to put ourselves in a situation where we could win the game. Hopefully, we can follow suit on Friday."
One thing is certain: Chelios will be rooting hard behind the scenes.
"Thinking back to when we won the Cup in 2008, Cheli didn't play in any of the playoff games, but when we won it in Pittsburgh, they opened the door and the first guy to come out onto the ice with their equipment on was Chris Chelios
," Holland said. "He's been a tremendous team player for us and a tremendous role model for our younger defensemen on how to go be a pro."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.