At 47, Chelios isn’t ready to hang up his skates
Most of the Wolves players half Chelios’ age lagged several strides behind the old man.
“Face the facts, I have to go out and prove myself,” Chelios said between huffs and puffs. “It’s not going to happen sitting at home. I’m lucky I got a chance here.”
A few minutes earlier, Chelios had amused himself during a break by flicking a puck at an empty net from about 70 feet away. When the biscuit landed squarely in the basket, Chelios smiled like a NHL prospect satisfied he had just impressed his new coach.
Of course, Chelios isn’t a prospect like many of the Wolves players he practiced with at the team’s facility in Hoffman Estates, Ill. Depending on your perspective, Chelios is either a freak of nature who embodies all that is good in sports or a sad example of an aging athlete who doesn’t know when to walk away.
There were plenty in cyberspace Monday claiming the latter with capital letters and exclamation points. I’ll go with the former.
Seeing a guy 27 months from his 50th birthday mix it up on the ice with Wolves in their 20s left this impression: Everyone should enjoy his job as much as Chelios does, and every young hockey player should be lucky enough to be exposed to his example.
One awe-struck player referred to learning something from “the statesman.” All of them will have the story of the day the 47-year-old dropped into practice and beat them at sprints.
“He doesn’t want to be treated any differently,” Wolves coach Don Granato said.
Chelios, a former University of Wisconsin athlete, could be diversifying his portfolio on the beach in Malibu, Calif., instead of stealing the puck from a 25-year-old named Rylan Kaip during a minor league practice. But Chelios’ body hasn’t told him no yet—even if all 30 NHL teams have.
Baseball has players refusing assignments to Triple A to become free agents chasing jobs at spring training. Hockey has Chris Chelios. Enjoy the difference, Chicago.
“I’m playing because I love playing,” Chelios said. “I’ve always said to myself when I was ready to be done, I would know there was nothing left.”
After 25 seasons and 1,645 NHL games, sure, there may be nothing left. But everybody benefits from the process of Chelios finding out, most of all the impressionable players copying his every move.
Two of those are the same age (20) as Chelios’ oldest son, Dean. All but five of 29 players were born after Chelios was picked in the 1981 NHL draft.
No official contract had been signed as of Monday night, but Chelios considered that a formality and said he expects to play within a week. Both sides described the imminent deal as a 25-game tryout that would permit him to join an NHL team if one becomes interested.
If anybody has a right to be concerned about Chelios joining the Wolves, it would be Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell. The Thrashers have five prospects on the Wolves, their AHL affiliate. Waddell was asked on the phone if he had qualms about Chelios taking ice time away from a future Thrasher.
“Not one,” he said. “Even if anybody there did lose (playing) time, the pluses outweigh the minuses in bringing in a person of his stature.”
By the end of the season, Waddell expects an NHL team lacking toughness or character to bring in Chelios. He didn’t rule out that team being the Thrashers.
Chelios would prefer opportunity knocked with the Blackhawks, the first team he called.
“Everybody who plays in (the AHL) wants to get in the NHL,” Chelios said. “Ultimately, that’s my goal too, but first and foremost I want to get in shape and help (the Wolves) get better.”