No defenseman or American player appeared in more NHL games than Chris Chelios.
Each time Chelios took the ice in those 1,651 contests, he did so with a passion and determination for the sport he developed a love for while growing up in the south suburbs of Chicago.
The three-time Norris Trophy winner was among three players in the Class of 2013 elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Tuesday, joining Scott Niedermayer and Brendan Shanahan. Also inducted was female player Geraldine Heaney, and in the builder category, Fred Shero.
For Chelios, the honor caps a playing career that took him from his hometown of Evergreen Park to Mount Carmel High School to 26 seasons in the NHL – including nine with the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1990s.
Only Hall of Famer Gordie Howe was an older NHL player than Chelios, an 11-time All-Star, four-time member of the U.S. Olympic team and the only player in league history to play in at least 400 games with three different teams.
Chelios also was a member of the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and Atlanta Thrashers before retiring in 2010 at age 48.
“I always said I’d go right until the tank was empty,” Chelios said. “And, I believe I did.”
“He’s the best American-born player ever,” former Hawks teammate and fellow member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Eddie Olcyzk said. “He played in every era and played any way he wanted – skill, tough, dirty.”
Chelios was traded from the Hawks to the Red Wings in 1999 and is an advisor to hockey operations for the Wings.
“I grew up watching Bobby Hull and [Stan] Mikita,” Chelios said. “[Chicago] is where I’m from. This is home [and] it’s always going to be home.”
Chelios still gets a chilly reception from some Hawks fans after famously saying he would never play for Detroit.
“Does it bother me? Absolutely,” Chelios said. “But I understand it. I swore I’d never play for [the Wings], and then things changed overnight. The biggest reason going to Detroit is not only was it a great team and great opportunity, but it was 4 hours from here, and I was able to commute and see my family.
“They have to forgive me sooner or later.”
Chelios’ son, Jake, is participating in the Hawks’ prospect camp this week in Chicago.