Twenty-two years after his first Olympics, Chelios plays in Turin at age 44
TURIN. Italy – February 15, 2006
When the 22-year old University of Wisconsin collegian Chris Chelios played in his first Olympic game on February 7, 1984, against Canada in Sarajevo he was sure of two things: one, he would soon afterwards turn professional and join the Montreal Canadiens; two, the Sarajevo Games would be his first and last Olympic experience. At that time, Olympic rules were still very much in effect, and as soon as the versatile defenseman turned pro he would no longer be eligible for the "five-ringed circus." But the Chicago native outlasted not only all of his contemporaries--he also outlasted the antiquated amateur rules of Olympic participation.
By 1998, modern Olympic eligibility regulations were in place and the NHL greeted the new era by shutting down for two weeks to allow its players to participate. As a result, the 36-year-old Chelios was ready and willing when USA Hockey called for his services for Nagano 1998. Four years later, not done yet, he was able to avenge the highly disappointing sixth-place finish from Japan and play in now his third Olympics. Team USA won a silver medal in Salt Lake City in 2002 and the 40-year old Chelios was named to the Olympic All-Star Team for his fine play.
But he still wasn't done! After being traded to Detroit from Chicago in 1999, the fiery Chelios became a smarter hockey player, playing less adventurous hockey without losing his competitive edge or his skating ability. When Team USA general manager Don Waddell and head coach Peter Laviolette were considering his team for Turin 2006, there was no way they could omit the 44-year old Chelios. So when Team USA took the Palasport Olympico ice on February 15, 2006, for the opening day game against Latvia, Chelios became the seventh oldest ice hockey Olympian at age 44 years and 21 days. Chelios also became the first hockey player to participate in an Olympic tournament 22 years after he played in his first, beating Swiss Bibi Torriani's record of 20 years (1928-1948).
Neither Chelios nor his team will remember Turin fondly. USA finished a distant seventh and Chelios missed the chance to became the oldest hockey Olympian to win a medal. General critical opinion was that with this poor showing the generation led by Chelios, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, Mathieu Schneider, and Brian Rolston had played its last important international tournament. But on January 25, 2008, Chris Chelios will turn 46 and will be in the middle of his 26th NHL season (10th with the Red Wings). He is the oldest player in the NHL, but the defenceman shows no signs of slowing down. One would be wise not count Chelios out when USA Hockey starts the selection process for Vancouver 2010. After all, he would be only 48.
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LIKE A FINE WINE:
Chris Chelios seems to get better with age. The veteran played in the 2006 Olympics, his fourth appearance, as a 44 year-old.
PHOTO: Jani Rajamaki, Europhoto