by Scott King
Chris Chelios knew he shouldn’t be in the batter’s box at Guaranteed Rate Field, but there he was hitting line drives up the middle at age 57. Similar to playing for 26 seasons in the NHL until retiring at 48, he wanted to be in on the action at the Guaranteed Rate Foundation’s home run derby last Wednesday.
“I got a little health issue, I should be on the IR,” Chelios joked. “But I played in Evergreen Park, played pretty well, but nothing to this extent.”
The three-time Stanley Cup and Norris Trophy winning defenseman came to support another Chicago sports icon, Frank Thomas, who was on the bill with the event.
“Our kids played baseball together in Oak Brook growing up when I was playing here and he was playing here,” Chelios said. “So we’ve known each other since ’91 or ’92. It’s great to see him, he’s always been a great guy, great teammate [for] the White Sox organization. Just a real likable guy.”
The Blackhawks named the Chicago native, who was traded out of the Windy City to the Detroit Red Wings for Anders Eriksson and two first-round draft picks in March of 1999, a team ambassador last summer.
“The Hawks hired me probably a month before the convention and it was great,” Chelios said. “John McDonough and Rocky Wirtz, we spoke over the years, finally it was time to come home and it’s been great.”
With one daughter fresh out of college, another reporting for Tampa Bay Lightning TV, one son a scout for the LA Kings and another playing in Beijing, China in the Kontinental Hockey League, Chris’ next order of business may be re-launching Cheli’s Chili.
“If I ever sell a house, yeah, I will open a chili bar,” he said. “I’m looking for something close to the United Center because I always enjoyed making it convenient for the fans and I’ve always made myself approachable and the bar on Madison street was great back in the 90s.”
The former blueliner noticed a trend among NHL d-men for teams that made it far in this summer’s postseason.
“You see Boston or St. Louis, a lot of size, more North American style,” Chelios said. “Regular season is one thing, the playoffs is a whole different ball game with hitting and the speed and that’s when it really counts. It’s entertaining, regular season [hockey], that run-and-gun style, that almost like European style, but at the end of the day, winning games, you still got to play D.”
He also liked some of the moves Blackhawks GM and VP Stan Bowman made to improve the team so far this offseason.
“I look back when I was Seabrook’s age and Keith’s age and it’s tough to carry that load when you get a little older,” Chris said. “Not that they’ve lost a step at all, but having (Olli) Maatta come in, and they needed a defenseman, they got like a (Niklas) Hjalmarsson type of guy, who they lost.
“And they made the addition of (Andrew) Shaw, the grit that they had when they were winning the cups, they always had some gritty guys: (Dave) Bolland, (Adam) Burish… They know what they’re doing. I like the additions and they could have easily been in the playoffs [last season] if it wasn’t for that tough start. (Corey) Crawford was out, now they got a kid (Robin Lehner) that’s going to push Crawford, so should be good.
“I love Crawford and I don’t think [he] was the problem. Again, they had a tough stretch there. They got there, but it’s tough when you play playoff hockey in the middle of the season and they just ran out of gas I think towards the end of the year.”