‘Off the Leash Luncheon’


By P.J. Kennedy

Lauded for his tenacity, strength, longevity, and his offensive and defensive  accomplishments on the ice,  Chicago-born defenceman Chris Chelios was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, received all-star recognition numerous times, and had a National Hockey League career that spanned well over a quarter century.

On Thursday, 7 November, the outspoken former member of Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and Atlanta Thrashers will be the featured speaker at the eleventh annual “Off the Leash Luncheon” to raise money for the University of Saskatchewan Men’s Hockey Team.

Never a shrinking violet on or off the ice, the former NHL captain of Montreal, Chicago, and various Team USA contingents at World Juniors, the Olympics, and World Cup will provide attendees with a lively presentation giving insight into  his many years of hockey.

Born in 1962, Chelios was raised in Illinois and  played high school hockey before his family moved to southern California where there were no organized teams in his area. He loved the game, however, and found various indoor rinks where he would skate and play pick-up games. After graduating high school in 1979, he was determined to play the sport he loved and tried out for the team at  U.S. International University  in San Diego where he was cut from the team. Nevertheless,  he pressed on and finally made his way to the junior ranks spending two stellar seasons  (1979-81) with the Moose Jaw Canucks when they were playing in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. His tenacity paid off as during those two years he accumulated 35 goals, 96 assists for 131 points in only 108 games. His toughness, which would be part of his professional game throughout his career in the NHL, was shown with a total of 295 penalty minutes in those two seasons. In his final SJHL campaign he was rewarded for his total game by being named the league’s best defenceman.

The 6’1” 190 lb blueliner spent the next two years as a star for Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship teams at  University of Wisconsin. Indeed, his Badgers took the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship in his final year (1983). In his time playing university hockey he notched 22 goals, 75 assists for 97 points in 88 games which led to his acceptance as a member of  the US Olympic Team for whom he played 60 games in 1983-84 garnering 14 goals, 35 assists for 49 points.

After being drafted in 1981 by Montreal Canadiens, he suited up with the Habs for twelve games in 1983-84. Then, as a bona fide rookie in 1984-85, Chelios was named to the NHL all-rookie team. What followed were five more years with Montreal which saw him win his first Stanley Cup (1986), first  Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman (1989), and first selection to the NHL all-star first team. During his last season with the team (1989-90)  he was named captain.

In 1990-91 “Cheli” moved to his hometown Blackhawks where he would play eight seasons in which he solidified his position as a leader on the ice being appointed captain from 1995-96 to part of 1998-99 during which time he was selected a first or second team all-star five times. He captured his second Norris Trophy in 1992-93 and his third in 1995-96.

At the age of 36 he moved to Detroit during the 1998-99 season where he continued to contribute on the ice winning two more Stanley Cups in 2002 and 2008. Although not the offensive threat he was in his early years in the league, the veteran’s defensive game remained strong. In fact, he led the NHL in +/-  with a +40 at the age of 40 in 2002.

Recognizing his tenacity and skill over such a long career, he was presented with the NHL’s Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2007. After leaving Detroit in 2009, Chelios played only seven more NHL games, finishing his career with Atlanta Thrashers in 2010.

In total, the man who could not make the team at a small California university  as a youth, went on to play in 1651 games, seventh all time and the most ever by a defenceman and by an American born player in NHL history.  The three-time Stanley Cup and Norris Trophy winner  scored 185 goals with 763 assists adding up to a point total of 948 with 2891 penalty minutes (twelfth all time) in over 26 seasons of play at the highest level.  When he retired from Atlanta he was 48 years old, second in NHL history only to Gordie Howe’s being 52 when he hung up his skates.

Internationally Chris Chelios performed for Team USA at one world junior championship, three Canada Cups, four Olympic Games, and two World Cups including winning one gold medal in 1996.  He served as team captain for American teams a total of five times, while winning individual awards such as Olympic Best Defenceman (2002), Canada Cup and Olympic  All-Star, and World Cup All-Star.

Throughout his career he was never afraid to speak up, yet it was his strength and prowess on the ice that made him what former NHL player and current television commentator Nick Kypreos called “a legend in the game.”  In addition to his being named to the Hockey Hall of Fame (2014), Chelios was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame (2012) and the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.

Today Chris Chelios serves as team ambassador for the Chicago Blackhawks after serving in a similar capacity with Detroit Red Wings as well as an advisor to hockey operations in the motor city after his retirement from play. His knowledge of the game, personal experience, and ability to express his views made him a natural as a  hockey analyst for Fox Sports. Former NHL coach Doug MacLean has said he is a man who “tells things the way he sees them.”  In fact, he has produced a published memoir entitled Overtime (sold as Made in America in the U. S.) in which he speaks frankly about his years playing the game.  At various times since his retirement he has used his popularity to become a restauranteur, having had his own establishments in the Detroit and Chicago areas.

Prince Albert-born funnyman Kelly Taylor will interview Chelios and also provide his usual wit and humour as master of ceremonies.  Back for his ninth   season at the mic for “Off the Leash Luncheon,”  Taylor has made numerous comedy appearances  at venues across North America as well as been featured on radio

Highlights from 2018

Huskie Hockey Annual Fundraising Luncheon