By JAMES COOK
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — It may be hard to believe, but as a kid, Chris Chelios didn’t even really want to play hockey.
Baseball was his sport of choice.
Decades later, he’s a hockey Hall of Famer. The former Detroit Red Wings defenseman was announced as an inductee along with Wings teammate Brendan Shanahan on Tuesday, one day before helping the team coach its prospects at the Red Wings Development Camp in Traverse City.
“My goal as a kid was not to play in the NHL,” Chelios said. “It was more to play for the White Sox or the Cubs. I loved baseball. At one point in my life, my dad ended my baseball career. I won’t get into that. But for whatever reason, I was put on the Earth to play hockey. Everything that could go against me for awhile did. And then like overnight, everything went my way, starting in Moose Jaw. I understand how lucky I am. It’s not an individual award, when it boils down to it. I have some great teammates, coaches and being on some great teams. I can’t be any happier. It’s more exciting for my family and friends, not that I’m not excited. I don’t think it’s sunk in until I’m sitting on that podium Nov. 11.”
Now he has to face something that scares him more than going toe-to-toe with the most skilled National Hockey League forward — making a speech at the induction ceremony.
“That’s my biggest fear,” Chelios said. “Having to get up there in front of a bunch of people.
“Having played so long, it’s going to be tough. You can’t thank everybody. But at the end of the day, I had a lot of help along the line. The speech will be a thank-you speech to everyone that played a part in my career.”
Chelios said he was inundated Tuesday with calls and texts congratulating him on the honor.
“I tried keeping up at first,” Chelios said. “It got to the point with the texts that my phone was going all day. And it’s still going (Wednesday) morning, from people who hadn’t seen it (Tuesday). It’s nice. I’m getting people from my neighborhood in Evergreen Park that I had no idea were still following me. And somehow they’re still getting my numbers. That’s the most gratifying part, is seeing how my friends and family are so proud of the fact.”
In 1,651 career NHL games for Montreal, Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta, Chelios amassed 185 goals, 763 assists, 948 points, a +/- rating of +350 and 2,891 penalty minutes. He won the Stanley Cup three times, including two while with the Wings.
“Had it not been for Detroit,” Chelios said, “I don’t know I’d be receiving this.”
Red Wings first-round pick Anthony Mentha said just meeting Chelios was an honor.
“It’s a great moment,” Mantha said. “He’s a legend. I was introduced to him two days ago, and it was an honor. I watched him play when I was younger, and now I’m on the ice with him. It was a great moment.”
Detroit general manager Ken Holland — who selected Chelios to follow Steve Yzerman as his Executive Advisor — said the 2002 Wings team could go down as one of the NHL’s most decorated in terms of Hall of Fame inductees.
“From the 1990s and up to now with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, we got Hall of Fame candidates,” Holland said. “But to have two guys go in (Monday), Chelios and Shanahan, you think about the ‘02 team. You have (Igor) Lirianov and (Steve) Yzerman, Mr. Ilitch and Scotty Bowman and Jim Devellano and you know Nick Lidstrom is going to go in at some time, probably Dominik Hasek. I might have forgotten somebody, but certainly the ‘02 team is going to be remembered in Detroit for a long time. You’re probably going to have close to half that team in the Hall of Fame. It’s been a special run in Detroit the last 15-18 years, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
In 2009, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille — who were also on the 2002 team — were inducted.