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Cronin: U.S. Hockey Hall honor for Chris Chelios only the beginning

Next stop Hall: Chris Chelios’ hockey travels have taken him from among others Mount Carmel Moose Jaw Montreal Blackhawks Detroit

Next stop, the Hall: Chris Chelios’ hockey travels have taken him from, among others, Mount Carmel to Moose Jaw to Montreal to the Blackhawks to Detroit to the Wolves, and, next, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. | File photo

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A MAJOR PLUS

If there’s any doubt Chris Chelios will double up on Halls of Fame, adding a spot into the Toronto-based hall to Monday’s induction to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, just look at this number: plus-350. That’s Chelios’ career plus-minus figure, the second-best figure among American-born defenseman in NHL history. (Phil Housley and Brian Leetch, 1-2 in points, are minus-53 and plus-25, respectively). The best plus-minus in the group? Mark Howe’s plus-400. Howe, who scored 206 fewer points than Chelios and won neither a Stanley Cup nor a Norris Trophy, will be inducted into the Toronto Hall in the fall.

Updated: January 23, 2012 3:18AM



Craig Ferguson knows why Chris Chelios, his old hockey teammate at Mount Carmel, succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams on the ice.

“More so than anyone else I know, he made his own way,” Ferguson said of Chelios, named Monday to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. “It wasn’t like today, when there are so many junior programs. Chris had to do it himself.”

A journey that began in Evergreen Park and included stops in San Diego, Moose Jaw, Madison and Sarajevo before he made the NHL will culminate in Chicago in October, when USA Hockey honors Chelios and this year’s other inductees: former Blackhawks defenseman Gary Suter, Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider and broadcaster Mike Emrick.

Oh, and Ferguson called it. Back in 1997, remembering when Chelios played goalie for the Saints as a kid, Ferguson said, “He’d play anywhere against anybody at any time of the day or night and at any position. I think that’s why he’ll be in the Hall of Fame. Obviously, there’s a wealth of talent, but I don’t think there’s anybody who loves playing hockey like Chris Chelios.”

“Halfway there,” Ferguson, now St. Rita’s director of admissions and hockey coach, said Tuesday. “He’s got to wait two years for the Hockey Hall of Fame. And I’m fairly certain that’s a certainty.”

A 26-season career including three Stanley Cup titles, an equal number of Norris trophies and sitting 10th all time in points among NHL defenseman (and third among American blueliners, behind only Phil Housley and Brian Leetch), would tend to favor Chelios’ induction into the big Toronto hall. It’s closely aligned with the NHL — it’s the home of the Stanley Cup and the rest of the league’s silverware — but open to nominees from around the world.

Expect Chelios to be a first-ballot inductee to the big hall in 2013. For the moment, being honored by his country’s hockey hall is huge.

“It’s pretty hard to believe,” Chelios said Monday.

To him, maybe. Of course, Chelios never has been good about talking about himself. He always wanted to credit someone else on the team or someone who helped him. Meanwhile, the numbers added up (216 NHL goals, including 31 in the playoffs; 1,092 points including the postseason). The knees wore out, but the seasons piled up.

“Look at his longevity,” Ferguson said. “Chris wasn’t playing because he needed a paycheck. He played because he loved the competition. Even going to the Wolves, he wanted to play.”

Curiously, Chelios’ resume will note he played his final seven NHL games for the Atlanta Thrashers, then the Wolves’ parent club. His stints with the Canadiens, Blackhawks and Red Wings will be more vividly remembered.

With the Canadiens he became the final piece of the puzzle needed to solve the Stanley Cup equation in 1986. With the Hawks — the deal Mike Keenan made with the Habs, shipping Denis Savard to his hometown and bringing Chelios to his, was the best one Trader Mike made — he pushed his teammates to the Cup Final in 1992, only to run into Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr at their best. With Detroit, to where he fled after owner Bill Wirtz decided to go cheap in the era of unbridled free agency, he helped the Wings to a pair of Cups.

He played hard. He played dirty — go to YouTube.com and type in “Chelios Hextall” for a vintage scrap. He played hurt, including at the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field on New Year’s Day 2009. He was a leader.

He was a four-time Olympian.

Those of lesser resolve wouldn’t have made it. The family moved to San Diego when he was 15, and Chelios was lucky to find a pick-up league in Los Angeles to get on the ice once a week. At college age, he twice tried out for the U.S. International University team and twice was cut. (The school didn’t make the cut, either. It was absorbed by another school in 2001.)

Chelios was cut by a Tier II junior team in Windsor, Ontario, before begging a team in Moose Jaw for a chance. He got it, and two years later was drafted by Montreal. Before he joined the Canadiens, he played for the U.S. in the 1984 Olympics.

The little kid from Evergreen Park who grew up fast was on the way. His way.



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