NHL Alumni Chris Chelios chats about his love for biking, working the World Cup of Hockey in 2016 and being an ambassador for the Chicago Blackhawks.
BY: Riley Horan
January 8, 2021
With 1651 games played and 948 points, the 26-year NHL veteran, 3-time Stanley Cup champion and 3-time Norris Trophy winner recalled some of the most memorable moments from his Hall of Fame career. From starting out in Juniors to captaining Team USA at the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Olympics, Chelios takes us through his remarkable time in the NHL and beyond. Here’s Chelios in his own words:
RILEY HORAN: You are tied with Gordie Howe for the most seasons played in a career at 26 and hold the record for most games played by a defensemen. What would you say was a key factor in your longevity on the ice?
CHRIS CHELIOS: Definitely getting traded from Chicago to Detroit at the time that I did played a big part in that. Obviously, they were such a good team and they were a veteran team, whereas in Chicago I was playing big minutes, which I really couldn’t handle anymore at my age. When I got into Detroit, I fit into the role of the penalty killer and a guy who played 20 minutes a game. Not being traded for the last 10 years of my career also greatly contributed to my longevity on the ice. Most guys have to make that decision to leave their family or move their family elsewhere when they are traded. I feel that really becomes a factor in whether or not you want to continue playing. I just got lucky that I was able to play those last 10 years in Detroit and not have to uproot my family or make those tough decisions.
RH: How many miles would you guess you’ve put on exercise bikes throughout your career?
CC: Oh, God. I mean, when I first started the training wasn’t as sophisticated or vast as it is now. So pretty much all you would do is bike and bench press. A lot of guys ran at that time as well, but I always liked riding bikes. I eventually got into riding mountain bikes out in California when I started training there. It’s always been something I enjoyed, and it’s one of those exercises you can always do regardless of the climate. There is the Peloton for when you’re living somewhere with winters that don’t allow you to get outside. You want to stay in shape and I felt that the bike was the best way to do that and it had the least contact on my knees. So to answer your question, billions of miles!
RH: You and Brett Hull won the World Cup of Hockey in 1996. What was it like HAVING THE OPPORTUNITY to work the Media side of the tournament with ESPN and Hull in 2016?
CC: It was fun. I think I was a little hard towards Tortorella, which I was disappointed in myself for afterwards. When you’re working in the media, you find that you have to call it like it is, or at least your opinion when you’re in the situation. I really liked working with Hully (Brett Hull), I thought we complimented each other very well and the ESPN staff were great with us. Half the battle of being on TV, for me anyway, is feeling comfortable and they made us feel very comfortable. It really took the life out of it when Team USA got eliminated and had such a disappointing tournament. They weren’t in it the rest of the way, so that really put a damper on things for me and Hully, not having our team there.
RH: YOU WON THE Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2002 and 2008, serVED as an assistant coach AND an ambassador for the CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS. what does it mean for you to go back to THESE CITIES?
CC: It’s amazing. I went to Montreal last year when they honoured the living captains. I think there’s about 12 or 13 of us. Gainey, Lafleur, Damphousse and Carbonneau were there. It was a really nice thing. I hadn’t been to Montreal for a while so the way the fans accepted me was very special. They were always good to me after being traded. A little tougher in Detroit with a rivalry that I had with Chicago. Now the response I get from fans is amazing. And like you mentioned, being an ambassador, and having the ability to walk around the rink and greet people is great. I also go back to Detroit every once in a while. I am really fortunate to be treated so well by the three different teams that I got the chance to play for throughout my career. I am very lucky in that sense.
RH: how special was it TO captain Team USA In 2006, 22 years after your first Olympics?
CC: It really was unexpected. Obviously, I was on the downside of my career. But as I said, I was playing the role of the penalty killer and the shut-down guy at the time. It was amazing. In 2002, we came up short, unfortunately losing to Team Canada. I still say that was probably the best tournament and the best hockey I’ve ever been involved with. The score wasn’t an indication of how close that game really was until the third period. Joe Sakic had the game of his life. To play in front of your whole country, to play for Herb Brooks and to play with the group of guys we had, it was a great experience. Even looking back, we won a Silver medal. That’s pretty darn good.
RH: Starting off your hockey career you were cut from a few Junior B teams. Looking back now, AS a Hall of Fame player, what would you tell yourself during those hard times of trying to breakthrough?
CC: Quite honestly, I never had any expectations of making it to the NHL, especially being American and living in San Diego at the time. So, I played for fun and when I did get cut, I didn’t really take it that hard. I went back to San Diego and accepted it and just figured that I would go to college. It was my goal to get to college and there was no pressure on me since I didn’t have any expectations of making it to the NHL, so getting cut really didn’t bother me. In my first year, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then I went up to Moose Jaw and made the team. I was obviously in the right place at the right time, and everything went my way from there.
RH: Many of your past teammates list you as one of the most competitive players they know. Where do you think you got such a strong competitive drive from? Have you always had that, Even as a young kid?
CC: I didn’t excel in anything in particular other than track, I don’t think anyone could ever beat me in a 50 or 75-yard dash. Throughout my grammar school and high school, I just liked winning! I played all sports; baseball, football, hockey and I enjoyed them all. I don’t think I was really competitive until I got to Moose Jaw. Then I felt like I was knocking at the door and that’s when I realized I had to make the most of it. Hard work was never a question. I’ve always worked hard, but so do a lot of other guys. That competitiveness developed later when I felt I actually had a chance to make it to college and then to the NHL.
RH: Can you tell us the story of how you met your friend Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam?
CC: We met each other in the seventies. We were living in San Diego at the same time but never knew each other. We just surfed the same spots and when we walked by each other we would say hello. Then about 15 years later, I was at a club in Chicago with Dennis Rodman, who was friends with Eddie. We were looking at each other and when we went up to each other, neither person asked where the other was from. Back then, obviously there were no phones and Pearl Jam hadn’t really made music videos yet. We just started talking about where we grew up and then it clicked that we surfed in the same spots. From that day on, we became friends and we still hang out. It has been a great run, went to some great shows and I’ve had some good times with him.
RH: You’re involved with ‘Teen Cancer America’ as well as your own ‘Cheli’s Children’s Foundation’. Can you tell US about some of the charity work you’re currently doing?
CC: A woman named Mary Beth Karlin started this charity in Montreal with Jeff Niemann, who has passed away since. For every point I got on the ice, someone would donate money. That’s where it started and it slowly grew over the seven years that I was in Montreal, and then carried over to Chicago where we did golf tournaments, bowling events and so much more. We just came up with different things and now we do concerts. Eddie (Vedder) is involved in Teen Cancer America with Mary Beth Karlin, and we have also teamed up with Pete Townshend. We work with all kinds of children’s charities. Eddie and his wife, Jill, have a charity for Epidermolysis Bullosa, and he’s done an unreal job with it. The biggest source of revenue comes from Eddie’s concerts, he donates 100 tickets so that we have the opportunity to host 100 people. It’s great! You enjoy the concert, you raise money and it’s a lot less work than having to put a golf tournament together or some other event.
RH: What is life like for you now? What DO YOUR DAYS LOOK LIKE? ARE YOU Still surfing?
CC: I started training in California, out in Malibu, probably in 1995. I’ve surfed before in San Diego but I took it up again and we’ve had a place out there and focused on raising our kids. Their summers have been in Malibu. I’ll always enjoy the West Coast, and now being an ambassador in Chicago, I am fortunate to have the luxury of being free to go travel where I want, whenever the team goes on the road. I’ve taken up snowboarding in the last 10 years and love to do anything that is outdoors, a lot of mountain biking. I’d love to coach again but it’s just too much of a grind and too much of a commitment.
Stay tuned for more upcoming interviews with NHL Alumni showing a more personal side of the game.