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Associated Press
1/4/2007 7:38:41 PM

DETROIT (AP) - Detroit Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios will be off the ice indefinitely while he helps employees of his sports bars cope with the stabbing deaths of two co-workers.

Chelios, who did not play in Detroit's 2-1 win against Anaheim on Tuesday night and did not travel with the Red Wings to Thursday night's game at San Jose, said he will rejoin the team when the time is right.

''The Red Wings have given me a leave of absence,'' Chelios said Thursday. ''I'll come back when I feel ready and the families feel ready. I'm just going to try to get through this day by day with everybody.

He said the deaths of 49-year-old Megan Soroka and 52-year-old Mark Barnard at Cheli's Chili Bar on Tuesday were ''senseless ... and there's no explanation.''

A police report says Chelios was speaking with Soroka minutes before she was stabbed to death by a recently fired employee who later confessed to the killings. The report says Chelios was on the phone with Soroka when she thought she heard a fight and was going to investigate.

Justin Blackshere of Detroit, who worked as a busboy, faces mandatory life in prison without parole if convicted as charged. He was arraigned Wednesday evening, and Magistrate Millicent Sherman ordered him held without bond until a preliminary examination on Jan. 16.

Blackshere did not have a lawyer as of Thursday evening, the Wayne County Prosecutor's office said.

The police report said Blackshere told investigators he also took money from a restaurant safe.

Chelios spoke Thursday at Detroit police headquarters, with Chief Ella Bully-Cummings at his side and a phalanx of police brass behind them. His voice quivering, he compared the killings to a death in the family and called the victims ''the two sweetest people I ever met.''

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