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Chris Chelios’ No. 7 will be retired on Sunday


A group of Chicago’s leading celebrities have frequently met at the watering hole Stanley’s Kitchen and Tap in Lincoln Park over the years; here the owner gave them some privacy and a chance to let their hair down.

It was mostly a collection of local athletes and Chicago-born musicians and actors who drank and sang karaoke and shared stories that may have been embellished once or twice after years of retelling. Imagine a Chicago version of the Algonquin Round Table but with beer, shots and an absolute lack of pretension.

Chris Chelios, as in most of his life endeavors, was often at the center of it all.

The former Chicago Blackhawks star, known simply as “Cheli,” wanted everyone he knew to know everyone, and characters as diverse as Eddie Vedder, Kerry Wood, Chris Farley, John Cusack, Ryan Dempster and Dennis Rodman became an extended Rat Pack of the game. Chicago celebrities gathered on the North Side for late-night fun.

“I was kidnapped one night and they took me to Stanley” Vedder once told me that Chelios was kidnapped. “Then it became like the Patty Hearst situation; I was happy with my captors.”

There are a million Chris Chelios stories, many of them true, and many of them that will be retold Sunday, when the Hall of Famer’s No. 7 overall player retires during the pregame ceremony at the United Center, ahead of Patrick Kane’s homecoming with the Detroit Red Wings.

Where to start? The stories are legendary.

Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall attacks him during a playoff game. Carrying the Stanley Cup around Chicago after winning with the hated Red Wings. Threatening Commissioner Gary Bettman during a work stoppage, Bettman says whether from a “crazy fan” to “concerned for my family…concerned for my well-being”.

Sending a $3,000 check and an apology to Japan Olympics organizers after the U.S. hockey team destroyed a hotel room following its loss to the Czech Republic at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Training with the US Olympic Bobsled team During another NHL lockout with the aim of competing in the 2006 Athens Olympics.

Banging beers at the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in 2009 Red Wings coach Mike Babock after his sons benched him by serving as beer salesmen. Provide the soundtrack to a YouTube video someone is burning the jersey Former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s at Stanley’s.

Former Chicago Blackhawks star Chris Chelios, from left, actor John Cusak and Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder pose with the Stanley Cup before the Cubs-Nationals game at Wrigley Field on August 22, 2008. (Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune)

His career, spanning 1,651 games and 26 seasons, ranks ninth in NHL history, and having spent more than 48 hours of his life in the penalty box, he ranks 12th on the all-time list, ahead of former Hawk Dave Manson.

Evergreen Park native and Mt. Chelios, a Carmel graduate, played nine of his 26 years in Chicago. He came up with a shocking trade in the summer of 1990 that sent star Denis Savard to the Canadiens, and near the end of the 1999 season, a salary dispute with GM Bob Murray forced a trade to the Red Wings.

But Chelios left his mark on the team from 1990-99, winning two of his three Norris trophies as the league’s top defenseman and helping the Hawks reach the 1992 Stanley Cup Final. It’s also worth noting that he helped revitalize the West Side area surrounding the old Chicago Stadium. Cheli’s Chili sports bar and restaurant opens at 1137 W. Madison St. in 1994, when few restaurateurs dared to move into the tough neighborhood.

A notorious tough guy, Chelios was once called one of the “most hated players” in the game by a Canadian sports magazine, a label he desperately wanted to shed.

“I don’t intend to harm anyone.” she once talked about her hot reputation. “But sometimes I want to win so much that maybe I take things too far. Sometimes I attack my own teammates and drive everyone crazy. Everyone wants to kill me in shootouts.

Defenseman Chris Chelios helps goaltender Chris Terreri clear the puck from the Blackhawks zone against the Devils at the United Center on April 16, 1998.  (Wes Pope/Chicago Tribune)
Defenseman Chris Chelios helps goaltender Chris Terreri clear the puck from the Blackhawks zone against the Devils at the United Center on April 16, 1998. (Wes Pope/Chicago Tribune)

But off the ice, Chelios was everyone’s friend; He was a “Chicago Guy’s guy” who always had tickets to a Cubs or Sox game or a concert or show. In every group of friends there is a guy who initiates the dates. Chelios was that man, albeit on a larger scale than most of us.

Donnie Kruse, the last owner of Stanley’s and one of Chelios’ closest friends, named his friend as the instigator of the Cutler jersey-burning video that went viral on TMZ in 2012. Kruse told me Chelios was upset about the Bears’ quarterback’s holding behavior. During a visit to the bar the staff and patrons were rude. Stanley was like family to Chelios, and Kruse said Cheli never forgave Cutler for the alleged slight.

Chelios’ softer side was showcased to family and friends. While Kruse was ill in a hospital bed in the final hours of 2017, Chelios and Cusack sat with their friends until the end. Donnie’s mother, Pat Kruse, told me later that the two FaceTimed Vedders who pulled out a guitar and played Donnie’s favorite song, The Who’s “I’m One,” then told him it was “okay to let go.”

Accordingly, the Hawks asked Vedder to inform Chelios about the jersey retirement, which he did on stage and surprised Chelios with the announcement during a showcase at the United Center last summer.

The special day kicks off at 2:15 p.m., when former Hawks broadcaster Pat Foley will host a panel discussion about Chelios in the United Center Atrium with former teammates Jeremy Roenick, Ed Belfour, Tony Amonte and Gary Suter. Many long-time friends, Famous names, including Michael Jordan, are expected to be present at the ceremony on Sunday. This event comes before another big event: Kane’s return for the first time since his trade to the New York Rangers last year.

When Chelios returned to UC for the first time in April 1999 following his trade to Detroit, it was Jordan’s first trip to his old home since retiring from the Bulls in ’98.


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