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Passing the Torch

by Kyle Kujawa / Detroit Red Wings
CHICAGO – Hall of Fame inductions are based on accomplishments and merit. What someone has done to receive enshrinement amongst the best in a profession.

In the case of Chris Chelios, it’s better to ask what hasn’t he done?

There are the three Stanley Cup titles, three Norris Trophies, four Olympic games, including a silver medal in 2002, and a World Cup title in 1996. The legendary defenseman has played in more NHL games than any other U.S. born player and more international best vs. best games than any other player in history.

“You always remember your first Cup and that was special in Montreal,” Chelios said. “Then playing in the finals with Chicago was outstanding, and I really couldn’t have been in a better situation coming to Detroit.”

“Salt Lake City though, winning a silver medal, being there as the lineups were announced for the gold medal game against Canada, looking around and seeing what we could have accomplished. Even though we ultimately won a silver medal, we didn’t disappoint anybody. It was some of the best hockey I have ever been a part of.”

Chelios’ career included a cameo in D2 – The Mighty Ducks, which helped launch an NHL franchise in Anaheim. His final game came with a team that no longer exists in Atlanta. And his Michigan legacy extends from the Red Wings front office, to Michigan State hockey, to Cheli’s Chili Bar, a popular destination for fans before games at Joe Louis Arena.

If only we could all beat the clock the way Chelios has.

"He was still playing here at 47. He survived the test of time," said his former Head Coach Mike Babcock. "He’s a warrior. One of the best penalty killers I’ve seen. He’s a good man. Teammates loved him."

Chelios, along with Gary Suter, Keith Tkachuk, Flyers owner Ed Snider and broadcaster Mike Emrick, were inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame during a ceremony on Monday in Chicago. All five are linked through red, white and blue, but for the three players, the bridge they served between the 1980 Miracle on Ice and today’s generation of American talent, may be their lasting impression on the sport.

“They’ve defined hockey for the generation that followed them,” Emrick said. “The 1980 team was an inspiration for a lot of guys who were on the 1996 (World Cup) squad. The 1996 team was an inspiration for the guys who were there in Vancouver. And 10 years from now, the guys who were in that game against Canada will define the generation that followed them.”

For Chelios, passing the torch isn’t just part of his legacy, but a job description. Now serving as an advisor to General Manager Ken Holland, his duties include watching the next generation of possible NHL talent, including his two sons, Dean and Jake, or coaching them, as he did as an assistant for Team USA at the Deutschland Cup last month.

Christopher and Kelle Ilitch, Mike Ilitch,
Chris Chelios and Marian Ilitch.

“Last year, I was more management,” Chelios said. “This year, I decided I wanted to spend more time on the ice. At this point, I’m leaning towards coaching. You’re on the ice. You’re not playing, but it’s the next best thing.”

And that’s the link. For those like Chelios, Tkachuk, Suter (along with fellow Americans Mike Richter, Brian Leetch, Brett Hull, John LeClair, Bill Guerin, and Mike Modano), who took the Miracle and skated with it, this group can now relish in what they did, not just in trophies and medals, but in seeing the continued growth of the sport.

“I take pride in the fact that what we accomplished building the sport, has helped some of the younger stars we have in the game today,” Tkachuk said. “Myself in Phoenix, other guys in different parts of the country.”

“You see a guy like Wayne Gretzky go to California and now we’ve got first round draft picks from California. Modano goes to Texas and now you see kids in the development program from Texas. It took time, but hockey is much stronger as a result.”

That development program, stationed in Ann Arbor, didn’t exist before American born superstars like Chelios, dubbed by Tkachuk as ‘The Godfather of USA Hockey,’ redefined the sport and its meaning in this country. 

“There are only two people who have ever made it big out of Evergreen Park,” Chelios joked of his upbringing. “Me and Ted Kaczynski, the Unibomber.”

“There weren’t a lot of people in my generation of players who played hockey, at least organized hockey. It just wasn’t as easy to get to. Now you have a lot more realistic career options, or at least the opportunity to get into college because of hockey.”

Chelios, along with his fellow inductees, were the group that gave the next generation a chance.


Something you may not have known about Doc Emrick, who joined Chelios, Suter, Tkachuk and Snider as inductees, was that one of his mentors was legendary Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell.

“He was my non academic advisor from my doctoral dissertation at Bowling Green, and he once said that you are very lucky if God gives you a job that you enjoy. I think a lot of people in our sport are lucky enough to have a job they enjoy."

“Here I was a Grad student at Bowling Green and I really wanted to get into hockey announcing. The reason I chose the topic I did was, which was based on baseball play-by-play broadcasting, was because I had no interest in doing it, but I wanted to find out what the life was like.”

“I went to Tiger Stadium, Ernie sat with me, with the microphone going and I just asked questions, and he just talked. He introduced me to the an All-Star right fielder, a guy that sold programs, a woman making hot dogs, a press box attendant and all by first name. Then he said to all of them, ‘This is my friend Mike Emrick, from Bowling Green.’ The fact that he knew Al Kaline, was one thing but he knew the name of the hot dog vender, the press box attendant and the program guy. He knew all of them and loved all of them the same.”

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