MONTREAL – Chris Chelios will forever be a part of the most select group in hockey.
Four months after learning that he had earned his place among the game's most celebrated figures, Chelios was officially inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night in Toronto alongside Scott Niedermayer, Brendan Shanahan, Geraldine Heaney and Fred Shero. One of the greatest defensemen in NHL history, the 51-year-old took part in the induction ceremony celebrating his storied career that began back in 1983-84 in Montreal.
“I started my career in Montreal, in a city that lives and breathes hockey, with guys like Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson and many other great players. I couldn’t have been more fortunate than to make my NHL debut in such a great environment,” admitted Chelios, who arrived in Montreal at 22 years of age. “I would never have learned to be a professional or learned what it took to win. They passed the torch so gracefully. Serge Savard also did a lot for me.”
Chelios, a Chicago native, became the 55th member of the Canadiens organization to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. That’s a significant achievement for a player who hails from an area where hockey isn’t necessarily the top sport. In fact, Chelios nearly gave up on the game just a few short years before the Canadiens selected him 40th overall at the 1981 NHL Entry Draft.
“It’s such a great feeling to be here and such a crazy story how I got here. The word that keeps popping up is comical, mostly because of the path that I took,” mentioned Chelios, who began his climb toward the NHL ranks with Moose Jaw of the SJHL before spending two seasons at the University of Wisconsin. “It's really incredible to see the support I've had throughout my life to make all of this possible.”
During his seven seasons in Montreal, Chelios certainly left his mark on the organization. He still holds the record for the most points (64) and assists (55) for a rookie defenseman, and he also claimed the Norris Trophy as the league’s top blue-liner in 1988-89. Dealt to the Blackhawks during the summer of 1990, he would spend the next nine seasons in the Windy City before moving on to Detroit at age 37. Many people believed that Chelios was nearing the end of his NHL career, but he defied the odds once again, going on to spend nine more seasons with the Red Wings and helping them to two Stanley Cup titles. After 26 NHL seasons - a record he shares to this day with hockey legend Gordie Howe - Chelios retired in 2009-10 as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers.
Like Howe, who always involved his family in hockey throughout his storied career, Chelios had his wife, two sons and two daughters join him on stage on Monday night to share the wonderful moment with him. In that moment, he recalled one of his earliest memories as a member of the Canadiens.
“The first day I walked into the Montreal dressing room, I saw all of the other players’ kids,” noted Chelios. “I couldn’t wait to have kids of my own so I could bring them to the rink and skate with them. I never thought it was going to be this good. It's been unbelievable being a parent.”
In joining several of his mentors in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Chelios proved that he made the best of the lessons he’d been taught all those years ago.
Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.
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