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'Tough as nails' Chelios to be honored at UC

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'Tough as nails' Chelios to be honored at UC

Friday, Dec. 17, 2010
12:54 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

Pat Foley was recently reminiscing about a golf outing he had with Chris Chelios several years ago.

The former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman, who will be honored with a Heritage Night at the United Center tonight, was enjoying the day with Foley and others when he abruptly left.

Chelios was headed to the rink. To skate. In the middle of his offseason.

He never went three days in a row without skating, Foley said. He loved being on the ice. Thats where he preferred to be. Whatever else was going on, nothing would get in the way of being on the ice. I never met anyone who loved the game that much.

After hearing that, it all makes sense. How Chelios compiled a 26-season career in the NHL. How he could log gaudy minutes per game. And how difficult it was for him to walk away from hockey, until he finally did this past August at age 48.

When Chelios is honored tonight, it will be mainly for his nine seasons with the Blackhawks where he was captain for four seasons and a two-time Norris Trophy winner.

He recorded career-high 58 assists in two of his seasons with the Blackhawks, and his 21 points during the 1991-92 playoffs is still a franchise best for a defenseman.

Yes, fans werent happy when he was traded to the much-hated Red Wings. And if Chelios doesnt get overwhelming applause at the United Center tonight, thats OK.

Ive been booed before. I understand the Detroit-Chicago thing. I mentioned that there are a lot of things that happen behind closed doors, and I choose not to share that with the public. But I left on great terms for the Wirtz family, he said. I had nine great years playing in my hometown in front of my friends and kids I grew up with. The fact I made it to the NHL and got a chance to play in my hometown, I know how proud they are of me.

For Chelios, it wouldve been great to get a Cup during his time in Chicago. But when the Blackhawks won it last season, he was soaking it up.

It was a long time coming and they probably wont believe me when I say this, but I was cheering for the Hawks right up to the end (last season), Chelios said Friday morning. I went to the parade and I saw the effect it had. I got to live it as a fan, which is something I hadnt gotten to do (when I grew up here).

Chelios career numbers are staggering. He played in more than 1,900 regular-season and playoff games, racking up 216 goals and 876 assists. And he was still out there competing through his late 40s.

His goal was to play to 50, said Denis Savard, who was a Chelios opponent and teammate. He loved to be on the ice. He was the first guy on and the last guy off. The passion he had; he was a great competitor. And thats what he was until the last second.

Chelios was traded from Montreal to Chicago in exchange for Savard in 1990. But when the Blackhawks faced Montreal the first season after that trade, Chelios brought his tenacious game to Savard.

I scored in one of the first games we played the Hawks, Savard remembered. The next thing I know he knocked my helmet off with an elbow. I thought, Uh oh, hes not happy. He was tough to play against. He was well respected but he was mean to play against. If you went to battle with him, you didnt win very often.

Former Blackhawk Troy Murray, who first faced Chelios when the two were in college Murray at North Dakota, Chelios at Wisconsin said Chelios was, as nasty as anybody that played the game.

If he had to bite you in the kneecap to win a fight, he would, said Murray. There was no quit in him. He has about as much passion for the game as Ive seen in anyone. Hes still very passionate about keeping the game where it needs to be, with the type of style that he believes is the right one in the NHL.

Current Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said Chelios never lost that style.

He definitely got a free hand out there once in a while to slow you down, Toews said. Some veterans can get away with a little bit. He was a smart player. Thats why he was playing so late. I guess I should be thankful I didnt catch him in his prime.

Thats when the Blackhawks had Chelios he was 28 when he was traded to Chicago. Chelios recorded 73-point seasons in 1992-93 and 1995-96. His play and leadership qualities earned him the captaincy in 1995, and former teammate Steve Konroyd remembered Chelios as a quiet leader.

"He was colorful and he eventually became captain when I was here. But he didnt say much in the room, Konroyd said. He really led by example on the ice. He let his actions speak for themselves.

The Blackhawks lost several superstars to trades in the late 1990s, and Chelios was one of the last to go when he was sent to Detroit in 1999. Chelios was 37 when he joined the Red Wings, and surrounded by a formidable team he played 10 more seasons with them.

Red Wings forward Mike Modano already had plenty of respect for Chelios, with whom he played on several Olympic, Canada and World Cup squads. But he gained an even bigger appreciation for Chelios later in his career. Last summer the 40-year-old Modano wrestled with retiring after 19 seasons with the North StarsDallas Stars or playing at least one more season.

He relates to my situation talking about the transition where you feel youre not at peak of your game, yet youre holding on and trying to squeeze every last drip out of yourself, Modano said. He understands that. He was certainly a catalyst for bringing me here.

Tonight will probably be a memorable one for Chelios. Hell be surrounded by his family as well as friends and former teammates. He will always be known as the tough as nails defenseman who played bigger than his 6-foot frame. So the homecoming wont be emotional. Right?

I hope not, he said with a laugh. You never know. The only time I get emotional is when I talk about my family, and theyll be up there with me. Well see what happens. Im not bulletproof.

On the ice, it always seemed he was.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Eight-defensemen rotation tricky, but Blackhawks understand juggling act

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USA TODAY

Eight-defensemen rotation tricky, but Blackhawks understand juggling act

For Jordan Oesterle, the wait really wasn’t a terrible thing.

Sure, he was used to playing more consistently in the past. But he knew with the Blackhawks carrying eight defensemen that several players, including him, would need to practice patience and understanding.

“It hasn’t been too long. It’s only been a week and a half so it’s not terrible,” said Oesterle on Thursday morning, a few hours before he made his Blackhawks debut against his former team, the Edmonton Oilers.

For the second consecutive season the Blackhawks are going with eight defensemen to start the season. In one way, it’s good: if anything goes awry, be it someone’s game or someone’s health, the depth is readily there.

But so are the challenges. It’s a juggling act, a delicate balance between making the right decisions and making sure a player understands that a scratch may be more about the rotation and not his individual game.

Communication, above all, is key.

“It’s not easy being the guys who are in or out, right on that bubble situation where you come in not knowing if you’re going to play. But as a staff we want to keep everyone involved,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We know the depth of your defense is going to get challenged at some point during the year. We feel the eight guys who are here can play but that’s how we’ve always done it: We’ve always let guys know whether you’re in or out. Sometimes you have to be more patient than you’d like but handling it the right way, whether you’re a good pro or teammate, that can be healthy around the environment of your team.”

Based on all outward appearances, everyone has handled it well. Connor Murphy has been a healthy scratch twice – “I mean I just want to see the team win really...if we're winning and guys are playing well that's all that matter,” Murphy said after his first scratch.

Oesterle was a healthy scratch the first seven games. Michal Kempny, who Oesterle replaced, has been scratched the last two games. Cody Franson has also sat seven games. Franson, whose patience has been in place while awaiting contracts in his career, is practicing it again. But he’s appreciated the Blackhawks’ communication on it.

“This situation gets tough when they don’t say anything to you; you don’t know if it’s because of the way you’re playing, you don’t know if it’s something you did or what the situation is. The coaching staff has done a great job of being in our ear, letting us leave our work at the rink and not take it home with us,” Franson said. “That goes a long way in being able to stay positive and in the right mindset through it.”

After starting with eight defensemen last season the Blackhawks eventually went back to seven. Will they do that again this season? Maybe, but whoever gets sent down would most likely have to go through waivers. The Blackhawks reassigned Gustav Forsling last season to get back to seven defensemen and get Forsling more playing time. But this season Forsling and Jan Rutta have been dependable and have pretty much become the Blackhawks’ second pairing.

So for now, eight defensemen it shall be. Being part of the rotation isn’t always easy but so far players seem to get that it’s for the greater good.

“It’s one of those things where we’ve got eight quality guys. I think no matter who’s sitting on any given night, it might not necessary be due to how they’re playing or how they’re doing individually,” Franson said. “I think Q’s done a great job of managing that situation. That’s one of those things where it’s a great problem to have but it’s not an easy one to handle. So we’re all aware of what’s taking place right now and you just try to be as professional about it as you can.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 win over Coyotes: Puck don't lie

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 4-2 win over Coyotes: Puck don't lie

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night:
 
1. Surviving a crazy first period.

The Blackhawks committed four penalties in the opening frame within a 2:18 span, and escaped unscathed from it despite a pair of 5-on-3 opportunities for the Coyotes.

Of course, the only goal allowed in the period came from a fluke deflection off Jordan Oesterle's stick and slipped underneath Corey Crawford's five-hole.

Joel Quenneville likes to say the team that takes advantage of their 5-on-3 opportunities has a pretty good chance to win the game. It applied in this case, with the Blackhawks coming out victorious after surviving that stretch.

2. Power play comes alive early.

The Blackhawks got off on the right foot in an area that has been an issue for them this season, capitalizing on their first power play of the game 24 seconds into it when Richard Panik redirected a Jonathan Toews shot that tricked past Louis Domingue.

Good thing too, because it was the only man advantage they'd get. Well, excluding the power play they received with 17 seconds left in regulation when the game was already decided. 
 
3. Another controversial review in Arizona.

What's with it with controversial reviews in Arizona and the Blackhawks being on the wrong end of the call?

The Blackhawks appeared to have taken a 3-1 lead when Tommy Wingels converted on a penalty shot, but it was overturned after officials reviewed it and determined the Coyotes netminder got a stick on Wingels' initial shot. Replays didn't exactly show conclusive evidence, but the NHL released a statement proving otherwise:

Video review determined that Wingels shot the puck into the net after Arizona goaltender Louis Domingue made contact with the puck. According to Rule 24.2, "No goal can be scored on a rebound of any kind."

Shortly after, the Coyotes scored in the final minutes of the period to even up the score at 2-2 in a big turn of events at the time.
 
4. ... But puck don't lie.

The overturned penalty shot didn't matter in the end though, because the Blackhawks came away with the victory and Wingels ended up getting his first goal after all on an empty netter that iced the game.

It was Wingels' first goal as a member of his hometown team, and it was well deserved for a guy who was part of the fourth line that turned in arguably their best performance of the season.
 
5. Lance Bouma rewarded with game-winning goal.

Speaking of which, it was fitting that Bouma scored the game winner with 4:24 left in the third period because that trio of Bouma, Wingels and John Hayden was around the net for the majority of the night.

They combined for two goals and two assists, had eight attempts shot attempts (five on goal), eight of the team's 16 hits and four blocked shots.