PlayerBorn Chicago, Illinois, United States, January 25, 1962
Chris Chelios may have played his final international game for the United States at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, but what was extraordinary was that he had made his first IIHF appearance some 24 years earlier, at the 1982 World Junior Championship.
And make no mistake—with a medal-contending team in Italy, USA Hockey did not give Chelios a free pass to play in what was his fourth Olympics (the first coming in 1984). He was there because even at age 44 there were no finer defencemen in the American program with a younger birth certificate.
Equally amazing, almost all of Chelios’s career with the national team came at the Olympics and Canada Cup/World Cup. He played in only one World Championship, that in 1994 in Italy. Why? Because during his extraordinary 26-year career in the NHL, his club teams missed the playoffs exactly twice. As a result, among his many great accomplishments, Chelios played in 266 Stanley Cup playoff games, the most by any player, any era, any position, in the 100 years of NHL hockey.
Chelios was a little bit of everything. Check that—he was a lot of everything. A tough, hard-nosed defenceman, he had offensive power and the ability to raise his game when it mattered most. Among those 266 playoff games were three Stanley Cup wins. Further testament to his longevity is easily found in the fact that his first Cup came in 1986 with the upstart Montreal Canadiens and his last 22 years later, with Detroit (his other Cup also came with the Red Wings, in 2002).
But surely the crowning glory of his career came in Montreal in 1996, several years after he had left the Habs to play for his hometown Chicago Blackhawks. That September he helped the United States topple Canada in the final game of the World Cup. It gave the nation its third greatest championship, following gold at the 1960 Olympics and the 1980 Miracle on Ice.
Chelios was captain of the U.S. Olympic team in 1998, 2002, and his finale in 2006, as well as at the 2004 World Cup. But while he was a mainstay on world-class teams in the late 1990s and first decade of the 21st century, he was also part of the developing American teams at the 1984, 1987, and 1991 Canada Cups.
Consider that when Chelios was a young player, he was one of very few superstars from his country. He grew as the nation grew, indicative of the team’s advancing to the 1991 Canada Cup final before winning it all five years later. By the time he retired, the U.S. could count itself among the great hockey nations on a regular basis.
In all, Chelios played 26 seasons in the NHL, a number matched only by Gordie Howe, but it was his international career which spanned so long and included so much success for which he will be equally remembered, at home and across the world.