DETROIT – It was only a matter of time.
After 1,651 games, 185 goals, 763 assists, 948 points and three Stanley Cups, the Hockey Hall of Fame will welcome another legend, as Chris Chelios will be inducted into the historic society on Monday.
“I’m still looking for the words to explain it,” Chelios said of his induction. “Scotty Niedermayer used the word surreal. When I think back to where I started and the path I took, it’s pretty unbelievable.”
To say Chelios’ path to the NHL was unconventional is an understatement. It’s a story that has been heard across the world, and will continue to be told time and time again.
The defenseman was raised in Evergreen Park, Illinois and moved with his family to Poway, California. His only NCAA Division I scholarship offer came from U.S. International University, where he was quickly cut from the roster and failed to make two Junior B teams in Canada. But after a successful season with the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Canucks, Chelios found himself drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft.
Chelios played for the Wisconsin Badgers before beginning his decorated NHL career, winning his first Stanley Cup in his sophomore season with the Canadiens. In 1988-89, Chelios earned the Norris Trophy as the league’s premier defenseman, and was traded to his hometown team, the Chicago Blackhawks, in 1990.
The defenseman was traded to Detroit in 1999, where he won two more Stanley Cups in his eight years with the Red Wings.
But in his 26-season career, the number of accolades Chelios received weren’t what stood out most.
“Looking back, I guess just the players I played with, so many great players I played with and being part of three of the Original Six teams had a lot to do with the history and tradition of the organizations,” Chelios said of his career. “Just great teams and great players along with great coaches.”
His teammates thought just as highly of Chelios as he did of them.
“He was the ultimate warrior the way he competed out there, always kept himself in good shape and just his passion for the game, I think that’s something that really stood out,” Niklas Kronwall said of his former teammate. “And off the ice just a fantastic person, just wants everybody to have a good time, happy, and I think he’s a big leader, he was a big leader for guys in here and a guy that everyone looked up to.”
From the veterans to the young players, Chelios made a lasting impression on everyone he encountered.
“I was pretty young guy coming in, he really made me feel comfortable,” Red Wings center Darren Helm said. “He’s really good to everybody, all the young guys, old guys, at least what I saw, a real competitor. It was a real big honor to get a chance to play with him. The career he had, Hall of Famer, you don’t get a chance to play with too many of those guys, it was really nice. Just the little things he did to make him a good player and person, just kind to everybody, a good heart.”
Chelios will be joined by Scott Niedermayer, former Red Wings forward Brendan Shanahan and Geraldine Heaney in the 2013 Hall of Fame induction. Chelios also has 80 family members making the trip to Toronto for the ceremony, and he’s looking forward to making each and every one of them part of the historic weekend.
“I’ve been playing for so long, you’ve seen everything and done everything,” explained Chelios. “Not to downplay the induction it’s a great award, but the best thing is seeing the reactions from my friends and family. They’re a lot more excited than I’ve been so that makes me feel pretty good.”
The least exciting part of the weekend? For Chelios, it’s without a doubt the inevitable acceptance speech.
“I just want to get it over with,” Chelios said. “To be honest with you, I’m really looking forward to the weekend, but on the same token the speech thing has probably been the biggest thing. The last three or four induction ceremonies, I watched a few of my teammates and friends get inducted, watched their speeches, so I’m just going to try to get through it and tell it like it was and speak from the heart.”
The words will come from the same heart that never let Chelios give up when his hockey journey became challenging; the same heart that drove him to be one of the top defensemen of his era, and his induction into the Hall of Fame an obvious decision to many across the league.
“It’s about time,” Kronwall said. “As soon as a guy like that hangs it up, I know it’s got to take a certain amount of time. It’s gotten written all over that he’s going to be a member, it was just about time.”