DETROIT – Jiri Fischer will never forget what Chris Chelios meant to him as a young defenseman learning his way in the NHL.
“He was so good at just putting things into perspective,” said Fischer, the Red Wings’ director of player development. “It evolved over a couple of years, but Cheli and I were just a good fit. Cheli was ready to teach and I was willing to listen and it worked out great.”
Before Chelios retired at 48, Fischer, a former defensive partner of Chelios’s, already considered the ageless wonder a lock for enshrinement into the Hockey Hall of Fame, not just for his numerous accomplishments, but for the way he treated young players.
“He really wanted to teach, he really wanted to help me out,” Fischer said. “That’s the feeling that I got. When we played together, as long as I did my job and we didn’t get caught in the D-zone for too long, everything was simple. But that was when Cheli was still a top-two defenseman in the world.”
Now, three years after Chelios retired as a player, his supporters hope to learn that the best American-born defenseman in hockey history will be a first-time ballot hall of famer when the induction class of 2013 is announced this Tuesday in Toronto.
“For me, Cheli’s a slam dunk,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “I think he’s one of the greatest defensemen of his era. Played 25 years, what he won a couple of Norris Trophies and three Stanley Cups, two with us, and regarded as one of the best of his era.”
Chelios’s credentials are beyond impressive. He played in four Olympics, winning a silver medal at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. He won the Stanley Cup three times, twice with the Red Wings, and in between, he won the Norris Trophy three times (1989, 1993, 1996), finished second to Nicklas Lidstron in 2002; and a gold medal at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.
He is the only player in NHL history to play in over 400 games with three different clubs, and the only right-handed defenseman to win the Norris Trophy three times.
CHELIOS IN PHOTOS
Chelios finished his career with 948 points in 1,651 games. Only Gordie Howe, Mark Messier, Ron Francis and Mark Recchi played in more NHL games. Chelios’ 266 Stanley Cup playoff games are the most all-time by a longshot as only two active players – Martin Brodeur (205) and Jaromir Jagr (202) – have cracked the 200-game milestone.
Born and raised in Chicago, Chelios won an NCAA championship with the Wisconsin Badgers in 1983, and quickly added to his hockey resume, appearing on his first U.S. Olympic team a year later, made the NHL's All-Rookie Team in 1985, and won his first Stanley Cup champion with Montreal in 1986.
His insane training regimen, which used to include riding a stationary bike in a sauna, is legend and mimicked by many current players looking to achieve the same longevity.
Retired NHL winger Bill Guerin, a former Team USA teammate of Chelios's, once called him a physical “freak of nature,” but also added, “He works his ass off too. He loves the game more than anybody I know. He deserves all the accolades he gets, with what he's done in his career.”
The Canadiens’ second-round pick, 40th overall in 1981, Chelios made an immediate impact once he arrived in Montreal from the college campus in Madison, Wis. He spent seven seasons in Montreal before the Canadiens traded him to Chicago for center Denis Savard.
Back home in Chicago, Chelios established himself as one of the best players in Blackhawks’ history, playing eight-plus seasons, including the last four as their team captain.
Seeking their third straight Stanley Cup championship, the Red Wings brought in Chelios and Wendel Clark at the 1999 trade deadline. In hindsight, it was a brilliant move by the Red Wings., but at the time it nearly caused mutiny among the fan bases in both the Motor City and Windy City.
As a Blackhawk, Chelios was adamant about his hatred for Detroit. Every chance he got against the Red Wings, he would deliver cheap shots, sucker punch players in the corners, and trash talk guys every time he passed the Detroit bench.
A year after arriving in Detroit, Chelios was asked by Ken Daniels, the Red Wings’ TV play-by-play man, what he liked best about playing for the Wings. Chelios answered, “I don't have to play like an idiot anymore.”
Fischer started in the NHL in 1999, so he doesn’t hold a grudge against Chelios and his past animosity toward Detroit.
“I certainly got a lot out of what Cheli’s approach was as a player,” Fischer said. “When veteran teammates make young rookies, or young teammates feel appreciated and feel like they belong, that’s a big part of the battle for them in being successful later on.
“I’ll be absolutely shocked if he doesn’t get that phone call from the Hall. … Maybe I should text him now and congratulate him.”
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