'Tough as nails' Chelios to be honored at UC

340049.jpg

'Tough as nails' Chelios to be honored at UC

Friday, Dec. 17, 2010
12:54 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

Pat Foley was recently reminiscing about a golf outing he had with Chris Chelios several years ago.

The former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman, who will be honored with a Heritage Night at the United Center tonight, was enjoying the day with Foley and others when he abruptly left.

Chelios was headed to the rink. To skate. In the middle of his offseason.

He never went three days in a row without skating, Foley said. He loved being on the ice. Thats where he preferred to be. Whatever else was going on, nothing would get in the way of being on the ice. I never met anyone who loved the game that much.

After hearing that, it all makes sense. How Chelios compiled a 26-season career in the NHL. How he could log gaudy minutes per game. And how difficult it was for him to walk away from hockey, until he finally did this past August at age 48.

When Chelios is honored tonight, it will be mainly for his nine seasons with the Blackhawks where he was captain for four seasons and a two-time Norris Trophy winner.

He recorded career-high 58 assists in two of his seasons with the Blackhawks, and his 21 points during the 1991-92 playoffs is still a franchise best for a defenseman.

Yes, fans werent happy when he was traded to the much-hated Red Wings. And if Chelios doesnt get overwhelming applause at the United Center tonight, thats OK.

Ive been booed before. I understand the Detroit-Chicago thing. I mentioned that there are a lot of things that happen behind closed doors, and I choose not to share that with the public. But I left on great terms for the Wirtz family, he said. I had nine great years playing in my hometown in front of my friends and kids I grew up with. The fact I made it to the NHL and got a chance to play in my hometown, I know how proud they are of me.

For Chelios, it wouldve been great to get a Cup during his time in Chicago. But when the Blackhawks won it last season, he was soaking it up.

It was a long time coming and they probably wont believe me when I say this, but I was cheering for the Hawks right up to the end (last season), Chelios said Friday morning. I went to the parade and I saw the effect it had. I got to live it as a fan, which is something I hadnt gotten to do (when I grew up here).

Chelios career numbers are staggering. He played in more than 1,900 regular-season and playoff games, racking up 216 goals and 876 assists. And he was still out there competing through his late 40s.

His goal was to play to 50, said Denis Savard, who was a Chelios opponent and teammate. He loved to be on the ice. He was the first guy on and the last guy off. The passion he had; he was a great competitor. And thats what he was until the last second.

Chelios was traded from Montreal to Chicago in exchange for Savard in 1990. But when the Blackhawks faced Montreal the first season after that trade, Chelios brought his tenacious game to Savard.

I scored in one of the first games we played the Hawks, Savard remembered. The next thing I know he knocked my helmet off with an elbow. I thought, Uh oh, hes not happy. He was tough to play against. He was well respected but he was mean to play against. If you went to battle with him, you didnt win very often.

Former Blackhawk Troy Murray, who first faced Chelios when the two were in college Murray at North Dakota, Chelios at Wisconsin said Chelios was, as nasty as anybody that played the game.

If he had to bite you in the kneecap to win a fight, he would, said Murray. There was no quit in him. He has about as much passion for the game as Ive seen in anyone. Hes still very passionate about keeping the game where it needs to be, with the type of style that he believes is the right one in the NHL.

Current Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said Chelios never lost that style.

He definitely got a free hand out there once in a while to slow you down, Toews said. Some veterans can get away with a little bit. He was a smart player. Thats why he was playing so late. I guess I should be thankful I didnt catch him in his prime.

Thats when the Blackhawks had Chelios he was 28 when he was traded to Chicago. Chelios recorded 73-point seasons in 1992-93 and 1995-96. His play and leadership qualities earned him the captaincy in 1995, and former teammate Steve Konroyd remembered Chelios as a quiet leader.

"He was colorful and he eventually became captain when I was here. But he didnt say much in the room, Konroyd said. He really led by example on the ice. He let his actions speak for themselves.

The Blackhawks lost several superstars to trades in the late 1990s, and Chelios was one of the last to go when he was sent to Detroit in 1999. Chelios was 37 when he joined the Red Wings, and surrounded by a formidable team he played 10 more seasons with them.

Red Wings forward Mike Modano already had plenty of respect for Chelios, with whom he played on several Olympic, Canada and World Cup squads. But he gained an even bigger appreciation for Chelios later in his career. Last summer the 40-year-old Modano wrestled with retiring after 19 seasons with the North StarsDallas Stars or playing at least one more season.

He relates to my situation talking about the transition where you feel youre not at peak of your game, yet youre holding on and trying to squeeze every last drip out of yourself, Modano said. He understands that. He was certainly a catalyst for bringing me here.

Tonight will probably be a memorable one for Chelios. Hell be surrounded by his family as well as friends and former teammates. He will always be known as the tough as nails defenseman who played bigger than his 6-foot frame. So the homecoming wont be emotional. Right?

I hope not, he said with a laugh. You never know. The only time I get emotional is when I talk about my family, and theyll be up there with me. Well see what happens. Im not bulletproof.

On the ice, it always seemed he was.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Blackhawks assistant Kevin Dineen appreciates interview opportunities

Blackhawks assistant Kevin Dineen appreciates interview opportunities

Kevin Dineen is back with the Blackhawks but there were times this summer you wondered if another team would take him away.

The Blackhawks’ assistant coach was a major candidate for the Colorado Avalanche head coaching job, according to the Denver Post, following Patrick Roy’s surprising departure. There were probably other inquiries, too.

“It’s always nice to go through a process of talking about the way you do your business. It’s also a reflection of where you are,” said Dineen following the Blackhawks’ White-Red scrimmage on Saturday. “No. 1, you have to get permission to do that, and the Blackhawks have been great about giving me the opportunity to go out and do that. But also, when you have success, a lot of people want to get your feedback or whatever it is.”

Dineen’s name will likely come up whenever there’s a coaching vacancy. He coached the Florida Panthers from 2011-13 and coached Team Canada women’s team to a gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Dineen will get another opportunity in the NHL but for now, life is good in Chicago.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016-17 season, Blackhawks fans!]

“For me, I couldn’t be happier right here,” he said. “I have a great person and hockey mind to work with in Joel [Quenneville]. But you know, down the line, those things play their way out and we’ll see where it goes.”

Arriving soon

Patrick Kane, Ville Pokka and Michal Kempny will join the Blackhawks’ training camp on Tuesday. The three finished up round-robin World Cup of Hockey play with their respective teams on Thursday.

Dineen said there’s a chance one of the defensemen, Pokka or Kempny, play in Wednesday night’s preseason game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“They’ll get into the swing of things here on Tuesday,” Dineen said. “So that’ll give them a good rest after a long, tough September, and we expect them to hit the ice flying.”

Briefly

  • Duncan Keith will skate during one of the Blackhawks’ practices on Sunday and Monday.
     
  • Team White defeated Team Red 4-3 in Saturday’s scrimmage at the United Center. Spencer Abbott led Team White with two goals.

Alexandre Fortin taking advantage of Blackhawks tryout

Alexandre Fortin taking advantage of Blackhawks tryout

For Alexandre Fortin, the last few months have certainly been memorable.

It all started earlier this summer, when Blackhawks scout Alexandre Rouleau contacted Fortin’s agent: Fortin was invited to the team’s prospect camp. He did so well there that he was invited to the rookie tournament in Traverse City, Mich., last week. And now, the 19-year-old is here on a training-camp tryout.

Yeah, it was quite a summer. And now Fortin would like to turn it into just as memorable of an autumn.

Fortin assisted on a goal in Saturday’s scrimmage, part of the Blackhawks’ training camp festival at the United Center. The Blackhawks are going to be keeping an eye on Fortin, who’s been impressive since that July prospect camp.

“I like his willingness to learn. Those same things you talk about, immediately it translates right into the next shift,” Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen said. “He’s a smart, cerebral kid who has a nice offensive skillset he’s been able to show early. He’s off to a really good start and trying to find a way into one of our exhibition games.”

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016-17 season, Blackhawks fans!]

Fortin had 19 goals in 54 games last season with Rouyn-Noranda of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Just to get a chance with the Blackhawks is motivation enough, although Fortin already had plenty. The Quebec native was passed over in two NHL drafts, much like former Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw.

“I had two years where I didn’t get drafted, and it’s always hard mentally. But some guys never get drafted and have a good hockey career,” Fortin said. “I worked a lot in the summer just to be ready to try and do the same thing I did in prospect camp.”

Fortin also got some advice from family; his uncle is former NHL goaltender Jean-Sébastien Giguère, who won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

“For sure, I had a couple of meetings with him just before I came here. He had a great career. He helped me on that. I can call him every time, ask him questions,” Fortin said. “It’s good to see the veteran guys. You have to use them as an example. It’s what I want to do. I have to learn how to be a pro.”

Fortin doesn’t know what the future holds but he’s getting a chance with the Blackhawks, something he didn’t foresee when the summer began. And with that chance, anything can happen.

“You have to stay focused on your goal,” Fortin said. “You know my life has changed a few times just with what I’ve done here. We’ll see after, but I’ll keep doing what I’m doing now.”