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The Hockey News caught up with Chris Chelios in early February and the Chicago native remains as candid, honest and passionate about the game and his career as ever. Here is the uncut interview.

THN: You told The Hockey News earlier this season you intend to play in the NHL until you are 50. Do you still feel that way?

Chelios: Yes, definitely. Physically I feel like I can do it. But realistically I know one injury could change everything. The fact that I have trained this hard and have figured out new ways to stay in shape, hopefully I can keep playing as long as I want. Since my minutes have gone up because of injuries to (Niklas) Kronwall and Fish (Jiri Fischer), it has made a huge difference to my game. The more I play, the better I play and the more I can help the team. This year was a real adjustment for me, playing 12-14 minutes a game at the start and mostly penalty killing. Now I know how role players feel, guys like (Kirk) Maltby and (Kris) Draper, who come off the bench after sitting for six or seven minutes.

THN: Was it frustrating to play so few minutes?

Chelios: Oh yeah. I wouldn't have minded so much if I wasn't playing well, but I also understand at my age, they have to get some of the younger guys some experience. I knew my role coming in and as hard as it was to make the adjustment, I accepted it. The toughest part was, if the team is losing, you can't do anything to help it win.

THN: To play to age 44, there must be lots of sacrifices that you make. What are some that you have made to remain a vital NHLer?

Chelios: The thing I have said since I started having kids is the time away from my family. There's nothing else as far as sacrifices. I don't care about the hours I work out; the time you have to put into that waking up at six in the morning. To me that's easy, just like going to work. But missing my sons' hockey games and my daughter's soccer games has been the hardest thing for me.

THN: Are the kids understanding?

Chelios: Yes. At this point they are very appreciative when I do make it to their games. They know how much work goes into me playing in the NHL and the travel that is involved. I have asked the kids if they'd like to have me around more, but they tell me to keep playing. They all do well in school and they are happy, healthy kids. I have been very fortunate that my wife carries the load. I wouldn't say she's like a single mother, but she does a lot of work on her own.

THN: Conditioning is a big reason why you have remained an effective player to this point. Have your workout routines changed as you have gotten older?

Chelios: There are things I just can't do anymore because of the problems I'm having with my knees. It's a quickness thing. I think I'm stronger now than I ever was; I just know that I'm not as quick so you have to change your game a little bit. I'm not an offensive defenseman anymore so it makes it a little easier that I'm on a team that is so good. There's no burden on me, like there was in Chicago, to play both ends and try to carry the load. I can honestly say with the skill we have had in Detroit the past six years, it has made it easier for me to play and stay in the league.

THN: How do you train during the off-season?

Chelios: I have a trainer, T.R. Goodman who was one of the first guys to start circuit training with mostly exercises that were geared toward hockey. I go to California and he puts me through two and a half months of different stages and a lot of it is designed to prevent injury. People might think they are doing the same thing, but T.R. brings it to a new level. He has started training a lot of players, which didn't sit too well with me. He has to make a living to, but there are guys that he works with that I don't particularly care for. There are guys that I really dislike that he took in. That's just the way I am and I'll always be like that. I decided to find different ways to train because guys I play against are 10 and 15 years younger than me and I didn't have that edge or advantage that I had with T.R. because they are all doing it.

THN: Two and a half months every summer is a huge commitment on your part.

Chelios: It would be great if I could stick around Detroit, but there are just too many distractions. I couldn't do my routine of getting up at six in the morning and going to the gym so I can be done by 9 or 10 a.m. so I can spend the whole day with my family. Hopefully that's where I make it up to my wife and kids, spending every day with them in the summertime.

THN: Do you remember your first NHL game?

Chelios: It was against Hartford and I was on the ice for 12 seconds on my first shift and got scored against. We were shorthanded and they put me out to PK. When I got back to the bench I remember Larry Robinson and Craig Ludwig laughing at me.

THN: Who were some of the other veterans on that Canadiens' team?

Chelios: We had Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Mario Tremblay, Bob Gainey, Chris Nilan, Pierre Mondou, Guy Carbonneau. I played with Lafleur in 1983-84 and he retired the next season. We got to the semifinal and took it to five games that season so that's when I really got to meet the guys and get to know them.

THN: Was it nerve-racking to walk into a situation with so many veterans?

Chelios: To be honest, the fact that I grew up in Chicago and never really got to watch a lot of NHL games, except for Hockey Night In Canada when I played in Moose Jaw (for two years), I wasn't really aware of the aura or what I had gotten myself into. I had heard of those guys, but I'd be lying if I said I got to see them play. Growing up in Chicago you couldn't watch hockey on TV. Obviously you still can't now.

THN: How long did it take until you started to feel like a true NHL player?

Chelios: My first 12 games I didn't play a regular shift and I really didn't play with any confidence. I scored my first goal in the first game of the playoffs against Boston and all of a sudden I thought I was Bobby Orr. I got my confidence. If you had seen me play two weeks before that, you never would have guessed I was capable of playing the way I did in the playoffs. After the first round of the playoffs, I thought, 'Man, this is going to be great.'

THN: What were your expectations back then as far as how you saw your career unfolding?

Chelios: There were no expectations. I didn't know if I would play hockey in the NHL or in a senior league. I just knew I wanted to play hockey. Once I turned pro, I had no idea how I was going to do. I never really worried or thought about too many things; I just played.

THN: What is it like the first time you are traded?

Chelios: Being traded by Montreal was a big shock. I understand why they traded me; I think after they traded me everybody who was captain got traded, whether it was Mike Keane, Vinny Damphousse or whoever. You know what it's like, when things don't go well, someone is going to take the fall when you lose out early in the playoffs. I believe in my own heart I was a little immature at the time and I wasn't ready to be captain of a team like that. It was a big responsibility and I don't think I handled it very well. I wish they had been a little more patient with me, but everything happens for a reason. I got married a year later, started a family and really settled down. It was a stage in my life where Montreal and I was a single young guy. You're living a dream.
cont....
 

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THN: Was playing for the Blackhawks and Mike Keenan a good experience?

Chelios: I loved playing for Mike. Some players will say he was pretty tough, but he liked me and he played me. It was my hometown so my parents and my brothers and sisters were living there. That helped a lot. I think I would have been upset if I had been traded any place else, but it seemed as though it was fate for me to be traded to Chicago. I was pretty proud to be able to play in front of my family and the friends I grew up with. It was a great experience to play there for seven years, to go to the Stanley Cup final there and to play in the All-Star Game there.

THN: How about the trade to Detroit?

Chelios: It was timing again. It was my decision. I had a no-trade clause, but I was going through a lot of problems because my sister had cancer and it was affecting my game. Nothing has ever affected me on the ice more than having a sister who was sick with cancer. Once she passed away, I decided I didn't need to be around to help as much, so I decided it was time to leave. It was time. All the veterans had gone and it was a transition period for the Blackhawks. I wasn't helping the team as a captain or as a player at that time.

THN: You come to another Original Six team, was that part of the plan?

Chelios: Looking back I feel very fortunate to have played for those three teams. I wanted to play with the New York Rangers, to be honest with you, when I thought Detroit wasn't going to re-sign me after we won the Cup. I always played well in New York and I love the city. It's one of the great old buildings that gets you excited about the game. I thought about Toronto, also. I'm an old-fashioned guy and I really couldn't see myself playing for any team except one of the Original Six.

THN: When the Red Wings practice, it is always at a high tempo, yet the players look like they have so much fun.

Chelios: Yeah, when Scotty (Bowman) came here he changed things. He likes puck possession so he wasn't always telling us to dump the puck. He let you play as long as you played hard. Obviously he didn't let you make the same mistakes over and over, but Scotty and the Red Wings changed the way the game is played in the NHL. Other teams caught on to it. At the time I was an offensive defenseman and it was great to be able to run around and pinch and play an aggressive style, because that's the type of hockey I love playing. Now my role is more defensive and I don't get as many offensive chances.

THN: Do you like the new NHL?

Chelios: If it helps the league and what they are trying to do in terms of making it more fan-friendly and more exciting, then I'm all for it. What I don't like is the part that the defenseman are at a complete disadvantage in that, when a forward dishes off the puck, you're not allowed to hit him, but when a defenseman does it, you're allowed to hit him three or four seconds later. And you're not allowed to hook or hold them up anymore so it can get pretty dangerous for the defensemen. As far as getting rid of the hooking and hold, I think it's awesome. It really opens the game up.

THN: What do you think of this year's Red Wings team?

Chelios: We have some great kids who have been here a few years and are really coming into their own. Guys like (Henrik) Zetterberg. (Jason) Williams is coming into his own. We signed a kid (Mikael) Samuelsson who is playing really well. (Pavel) Datsyuk is doing really well. I think people question our goaltending, but we don't. With the new rules, the way the game is being played now favors our team. Our power play and our penalty kill continue to have success. We should have some success in the playoffs.

THN: The American Olympic team is also undergoing some changes. How do you feel about your other team?

Chelios: I like the group of guys, people like Jason Blake who played in the World Cup. Half of the team has played together for 12 years and then we have a new group that will give us that jump and energy. They don't get into the rivalries and stuff, they just want to go out there and play and that's good. The goaltending seems to be the question mark again, but (Rick) DiPietro played us in Detroit and we had 48 shots on him and we couldn't touch him. I look at the gold medal game in Salt Lake City and Joe Sakic played like he wasn't human and took the game away from us. It takes one player or two to step up and maybe a goalie gets hot. It doesn't matter if you are favored to win or not, you just go there and try to get some momentum. Before you know it you're in the gold medal round. Trust me, when you get on the ice nobody takes anybody lightly.

THN: How do you feel about being chosen as captain of the American Olympic team for the third time?

Chelios: I step back and think about it and the spread in the years and the fact that nobody has done it before and I'm pretty proud of the fact I can still play at the level required to be in the Olympics. With the rule changes, maybe they kept me in the game. There's a big role for penalty killing and playing defense. We have great players in the United States, but we're not deep like Canada and other countries. I always said Canada could send two teams, maybe three. You look at myself, (Derian) Hatcher and (Aaron) Miller, there aren't too many stay-at-home defenders. I am fortunate enough that I have changed my game and adjusted to that type of game, too.

THN: You won two Stanley Cups, were the experiences the same or were they different?

Chelios: They were completely opposite. The first one I was young and it was crazy. The parade and the celebration was amazing. That's how I think a 22-year-old kid should enjoy it. Then 16 years later I had a family so it was calm and I could share it with them. My two sons were old enough to understand what it was to be on the ice with the team as we celebrated. It was perfect. I couldn't have scripted it any better.

THN: Is the Ted Saskin affair over as far as you are concerned?

Chelios: No, it's far from over no matter what Ted says. He thinks because he cleared himself legally by hiring lawyers and finding loopholes in the law, but I have always said I didn't care whether it was legal or not, we just had to brings lawyers in to try to slow him down and do what is right.

THN: What was it that bothered you the most?

Chelios: Basically it was three things: when our executive committee, which was being guided by Ted, decided to take things into their own hands, the way they handled the firing of Bob Goodenow, a great guy who did a tremendous job for us over the past 15 years and then going ahead and hiring Ted and giving him an increase in his salary which was done unethically. I have said all along there are criminals walking the streets because lawyers found loopholes in the law. That doesn't mean they aren't guilty; it just means they found ways to keep them out of jail. That's what lawyers do. Right now Ted is not allowing the players to be educated. He is still not showing side letters from the CBA that are now coming out which, had the players been aware of, they would not have never been voted in.

THN: What would make you happy now?

Chelios: I would say, after speaking with Ted and the executive committee over the past three or four months, I would like to see everyone replaced. We need new leadership. We got our butts handed to us in that negotiation, and that's fine. I expected a luxury tax and a salary cap and I'm not blaming anybody for the deal, but I think it's time for our whole executive committee to step down. We need to get all new leaders. For the guys who were there with Bob to turn on him like they did, they now expect us to trust them. That is totally unacceptable.
 
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