DETROIT – More than four months passed before coach Jeff Blashill finally had all five assistants on the ice for a Red Wings practice when on Monday hall-of-fame defenseman Chris Chelios joined the team at McCann Ice Arena in suburban Grosse Pointe Woods.
“He would have been on the ice from the beginning of training camp but he had some issues … he had to take care of,” Blashill said. “He’s been a great resource for me for three years and he’ll continue to be.”
The 53-year-old Chelios, who played 10 seasons in Detroit, has been bothered by a lingering knee injury, one that required surgery late last month.
“It’s sucks, said Chelios, who had his left knee wrapped in ice as he spoke with reporters. “It’s just stiff, so in about a month I think I’ll be a hundred percent.”
Chelios’s new role with the Wings is twofold: he’ll work with the team’s defensive corps during practices, while also observing most games from the press box and offering insight and analysis to the bench coaches.
“He is a sounding board for the entire coaching staff,” Blashill said. “I think he gives tons of one-on-one advice to players. He sees the game still lots as a player; sometimes when you’ve been coaching for a long time you see the game as a coach, so sometimes it’s difference perspectives. He gives us a different perspective as well. But I’d say it’s a lot of sounding board for individual players and sounding board for the coaching staff.”
For the past five seasons, Chelios has worked closely with the organization’s coaching staffs in Detroit and Grand Rapids, helping mentor young defensemen.
It’s a role that Chelios finds rewarding for himself, but also imperative to the younger guys on the roster.
“I hope I’m fair and hope it carries a little weight when Blash needs some help or a player needs to hear from someone else,” Chelios said. “Just like when you have a kid, you get a kid who’s sick of listening to your parent. Well, sometimes it’s good to have an outsider talk to your kid. … It’s new to me and I’m looking forward to it at this level.”
Niklas Kronwall welcomes the idea of working with a former teammate turned coaching assistant.
“Only great things are going to come of it,” Kronwall said. “Not only do we have Tony (Granato) that’s been around for a long time, but we have Cheli as well, who’s played 20-something years. Having a guy like that around giving us pointers is only going to help us.”
Chelios is also helping out with the development of young players in the U.S. Hockey program as well, though he said Monday that the Red Wings will remain his top priority. Last summer, he was named an assistant coach for the U.S. National Junior team that will compete in the 2016 World Junior Championship, beginning Dec. 26 in Finland.
Chelios said his new role requires limited travel with the team. It’s a luxury he appreciates since he’s committed to watching his sons’ playing career. Dean is with the Alaska Aces in the ECHL and Jake is in Charlotte, N.C. with the AHL’s Checkers.
“The plan is to start traveling more, not necessarily every game,” Chelios said, “but to be on the ice now.”