It was a cold January day outside of the Montreal Forum in 1984 …
I was standing beside the players’ entrance waiting to catch one of my beloved Habs as they arrived for a game that night against the Hartford Whalers. There were a few adults speckled among the crowd which consisted mainly of kids between the ages of ten and fifteen. Photos and scraps of paper filled their young hands as they anxiously awaited the scribbles of their favorite players.
As the icy wind carved blue streaks into normally pink lips – a car pulled into the driveway. It stopped just before the aluminum garage door that was the gateway to the bowels of hockey’s most famous building. The rear doors of the black sedan opened up and three players emerged – Tom Kurvers, Peter Svoboda and Chris Chelios.
One of the kids in a group that consisted of his peers ran toward them leaving his friends momentarily alone to fight the cold.” Hey Chelios !” He yelled with a smile . The group started toward the trio – pens and pencils waving in the brisk air. One of the other kids approached Tom Kurvers and said ; ” Mr. Kurvers – may I have an autograph? ” Kurvers looked at the young man and said… ” Sorry kid – I do not have time.”
Chris Chelios heard what Kurvers said and before you knew it – Chelios was standing next to Kurvers as the pair faced the autograph – seeking young man. Chelios grabbed the pen and paper from the pre-teen and with an angry sideways glance toward Kurvers – replied ; “ Of course he’ll sign your paper – what’s your name kid … ?”
Not only did Kurvers sign an autograph for that kid, Chelios made sure that Kurvers and Svoboda signed autographs for all the kids in the group. I realized then , Chris Chelios was a special player.
The End of an Era…
Drafted in 1981 by the Habs – Chris Chelios officially retired at the age of forty – eight.A twenty-six year career finalized – becoming the second oldest player behind Gordie Howe to play in the NHL.
“I will never forget my start. I had one point in my first 14 games with the Canadiens. I never even unpacked my bags because I thought I was going to the minors, Serge Savard and ( head coach ) Jacques Lemaire kept playing me and I finally figured it out. It also didn’t hurt that I had Patrick Roy behind me for the next six years, so thank you, Patrick – a good friend and teammate.”
Chelios played for nine seasons in a Habs uniform, winning the Norris Trophy in 1989 and a Stanley Cup in 1986. Unfortunatley for Habs fans he was traded in 1991 to the Black Hawks for Denis Savard – a player that was originally passed over for Doug Wickenheiser in the 1980 draft. Although the trade is considered to be one of the worst in Hab history, Denis Savard did win a Stanley Cup in Montreal while Chelios did not obtain the same goal in Chicago despite winning two more Norris Trophies in his hometown – the Windy City.
Never to be confused with an Angel – Chelios was outspoken and marched to the beat of his own drum.A drum not unlike that of the Energizer Bunny’s as Chelios would often hit the Montreal nightclubs and keep going and going and going . The Habs – an organization that prides itself with an image that is respected globally, finally had enough of Chelios’ shenanigans and the trade to Chicago was finalized.
A Long Career
Following a strict regimen, one that included a forty-five minute jaunt on an exercise bike inside a sauna, Chris Chelios’ NHL career spanned three decades with Montreal, Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta. To put it into perspective – Sidney Crosby was not born when ‘Chelly’ made his first tour under the Stanley Cup banners on Forum ice . It was there – Chelios began his ‘ schooling’.
“I was sitting in bars and restaurants with legends – the Richard brothers, Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer – listening to their stories about when they played; what it took to win . How all of them put the team in front of any individual play. There was no selfishness in that group of players and I was learning from the best, I always said playing for the Canadiens was like getting a Harvard degree in hockey and I was very fortunate to start my career there.”
Chelios’ final exam in a Montreal uniform came when he co-Captained the 1989 version of the team into the finals against the Calgary Flames. That team was the best Canadiens team to play since the 1978-79 team that won it’s last of four Cups.They ranked second only to Calgary in regular season points with 113 and lost the Cup in six games to a Flames squad that was just that much better.It was during that play -off run when Chelios perhaps left his permanent mark in Canadiens and NHL history – at least on Youtube.
The Habs were playing the dreaded Flyers at home , Chelios hit Brian Propp from behind and head – first into the boards. A hit that was considered to be dirty and Propp was helped from the ice and missed the remainder of the series. Chelios was a marked man. Because it was the play-offs , the Flyers could ill afford to retaliate and risk giving a superior Habs squad a two, five or ten minute advantage. Then came game six…
With his team trailing 3-2 in the series and 4-2 on the scoreboard in the game’s final minutes, Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall left the crease and slammed Chelios into the boards. A retaliation for Chelios’ illegal yet unpenalized hit on Philadelphia’s Brian Propp in Game 1.
Chelios crumpled to the ice ; the Flyers goalie continued to beat number twenty – four until the referees were able to pull the Flyer goalie off. Hextall – eyes glazed ‘ a la Charles Manson ‘, wanted to get at Chelios and in a move that made everyone wonder about Hextall’s sanity – the Flyer goalie’s tongue flicked back , forth and around for two minutes as the linesman kept the pair apart. For his actions, Hextall received a match penalty and was suspended for the first 12 games of the following season.
The Third Period
Exactly ten seasons after that brush with death – Chelios’ address changed from ‘The House of Blues’ to Motown as he joined a Detroit team on the verge of winning a Stanley Cup. An accomplishment achieved in 2002 and again in 2007.
Following a ten year career with Detroit, Chelios signed on with the Manitoba Moose joining ex-teammate and former captain of the Habs – Mike Keane. Chelios then signed on with the Atlanta Trashers playing in seven games , adding zero points and a -2 rating. After playing in 1,651 games, scoring 185 goals and adding 763 assists for a total of 948 points – Chelios realized that he no longer had any gas in the tank. The future Hall of Famer joined the Detroit Red Wings management staff and one of his duties will be to work with the Wings young defensive prospects.
Chelios played in two Canada Cups, two World Cups, four Olympic Games and two World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. He won three Stanley Cups, three Norris Trophies and played in fifteen All Star games.
I hope that kid outside of the Forum on that cold January day in 1984 kept that piece of paper.
Goodbye Chris Chelios and thank you!