Chris Chelios never expected to make it to the NHL, let alone into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
There is no reason in the world that I should have made it as a hockey player, Chelios told me a few years ago. I grew up in Chicago on the south side, and no one else had ever made it in the NHL from that area in Chicago because theres not a lot of money there.
I moved to California when I was 16. I had no intention of playing pro hockey or even continuing with hockey, I was just skating for fun.
And then fate intervened.
I was sitting on the beach watching these guys on a hockey team working out, Chelios recalled. One of the kids came up to me who had seen me skate and said he knew of a place he thought I could play in Canada. The rest is history.
A history culminating with Chelios being named a first-ballot inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Tuesday afternoon in Toronto.
Chelios, 51, is the greatest American-born defenseman to ever play the game. Arguably, hes the greatest American-born hockey player of all time.
His on-ice accomplishments are staggering:
fifth all time in games played with 1,651 and No. 1 in career playoff games played 266;
a five-time member of the NHL First All-Star Team;
an Olympic Silver Medalist and Captain of Team USA in 2002;
a three-time winner of the Stanley Cup -- two with Detroit, in 2002 and 2008, and one with Montreal, in 1986;
and a three-time winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHLs best defenseman.
Standing a little over 6 feet tall and weighing 191 pounds, Chelios played 26 years in the NHL. He was an abrasive player whos approach to the game was based on his passion and pushing himself to the limit.
Hes in the same category as (former Red Wings captain) Steve Yzerman, former Red Wings teammate Kirk Maltby said. Competitiveness isnt a statistic, but its something in the hockey world you can see, and you can tell when a guy is competitive game in and game out.
For Chris Chelios, it didnt matter if it was Game 1 of the exhibition season or Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, he was going to go out there and compete, he wasnt going to give an inch.
He was a guy that just wanted to win and compete as hard as anybody youll ever know. I wouldnt be surprised one bit if (Red Wings GM) Ken Holland were to offer him a one-year deal to come and play that Cheli would take that in a heartbeat.
Beginning his career with Montreal back in the 1983-84 season, Chelios admits that as a Canadiens player he did whatever he wanted to do.
When he was traded to his hometown Chicago Blackhawks in June of 1990, his game changed to a more aggressive style, which stressed antagonizing and instigating; however, according to Chelios, he didnt become a complete hockey player until he was traded to the Red Wings on March 23, 1999.
I matured coming to Detroit because we played a laid-back style, Chelios told me recently. I became very disciplined and worked on my defensive game. My defensive game really improved when I became a Red Wing.
I still had a temper; I just had to keep it in the closet because I didnt want to jeopardize the teams success.
As terrific as Chelios was on the ice, his contributions off the ice were something that his teammates admired. Chelios was all about the team whether he was playing or not.
During the Red Wings' run to the 2008 Stanley Cup, Chelios was in and out of the lineup. As much as he desired to play, he was determined to see the Wings hoist the cup after Game 6 in Pittsburgh, where he was a healthy scratch.
Our team song that year was 'Baba ORiley,' and Cheli comes into the room (before the game) and puts the song on, former Red Wings teammate Kris Draper said. Just before he puts it on, he turns around and says, This is the last time Im playing this song. Were ending it tonight.
We go out and come back after the first period and Chris Chelios is still in his gear, still in the locker room. Second period same thing. This is a guy that played 20-plus seasons in the NHL, and he was right there at the end.
An unbelievable teammate. He just wanted to win. He knew he couldnt help us on the ice, so he did he did everything he could to do to help us off the ice.
After the Wings won the championship that night, Chelios was handed the Stanley Cup in the lockerroom. The entire team surrounded Chelios and started chanting, Cheli! Cheli! Cheli!
It just shows you what a great guy he is and what a great teammate he was to all of us, Draper said.
A workout fiend, Chelios installed a television in the Red Wings' sauna so he could watch TV while he rode the exercise bike. The television and the bike still remain there.
His workout regime is legendary, Holland said. Even at 45 years of age, hes coming down to sign his contract and he rides his bike to the Joe. Hes about to sign a multi-million contract and he rides he bike. I think he lived 25 miles away.
Too me, Chris Chelios is about winning.
Former teammate and fellow HOF inductee Brendan Shanahan said, It would be my honor to go into the Hall of Fame with Chris Chelios, a tremendous teammate and player.
There are many reasons that Chelios is a Hall of Fame hockey player. Drive, determination, leadership, competitive spirit, the list goes on and on.
But Chelios is a Hall of Famer mostly because of who he is and the life lessons he learned growing up.
Ive never taken anything for granted with my NHL career, Chelios said. We didnt have a lot growing up; my father worked 80-90 hours a week at a restaurant. I saw what he had to go through to support our family.
When you dont come from a lot, you learn to appreciate when you do get things.
Thats the American Dream and a Hall of Fame attitude.