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Jay Greenberg
January 08, 1990
Award-winning Chris Chelios of Montreal is a nasty cuss on the ice, but playing the role of a parent has helped him develop a softer side
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January 08, 1990

Daddy Dearest

Award-winning Chris Chelios of Montreal is a nasty cuss on the ice, but playing the role of a parent has helped him develop a softer side

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It was a day suited to dinner in one's own dining room, but neither baby nor tabloid rumors nor a home loss the night before to the Hartford Whalers could keep the Cheiloses inside the house.

"By now we figure the hell with what anybody says, so we just go out," says Tracee. The waiters at the restaurant, who snapped to attention and brought over a sampler of appetizers, applauded Chelios. "It's tough," one waiter said to him consolingly. "You have to fight for everybody on the team."

Fighting was the least of the skills Chelios consistently demonstrated last season, when he led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup finals, which they lost in six games to the Calgary Flames. Besides being the catalyst on the power play and the man the Canadiens depended on to bring the puck out of the defensive zone, Chelios had 73 points on 15 goals and 58 assists.

This season a decrease in Chelios's scoring has fueled speculation that the departures of veteran defensemen Larry Robinson (to the Los Angeles Kings) and Rick Green (to retirement) have caused Chelios to play more cautiously and therefore not as effectively. Through the Canadiens' 6-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers last Friday, he had eight goals and 19 assists. Montreal coach Pat Burns, whose emphasis on defense and teamwork in 1988-89 helped eliminate wild fluctuations from Chelios's game, says he isn't worried.

"Most of the time the people on the streets treat you great, but you get into the Forum and the fans panic more than we do," says Chelios. "In bars they poke their finger right in your chest and tell you how lousy you're playing. My first few years here, I might have thrown the guy down the steps. I'm lucky I never hurt anybody.

"As frustrating as it gets sometimes, this is still a great place to play. I know that if I weren't on a team like Montreal, which doesn't have selfish guys, there's no way I would have had the success I've had."

In fact, Chelios is happy to be playing hockey anywhere. "When I think about where I've come from, I can't believe all I have," he says. "I could still be in the kitchen working for my father."

His dad, Constantine, who like many Greek immigrants of the 1950s became known as Gus, bought, operated and sold six restaurants in the Chicago area. "My dad is unbelievably full of life," says Chelios. "He always has another idea."

The oldest of five children, Chris learned to play Greek music on the clarinet. Not only did he have the talent for the clarinet, but he also had the look of a clarinetist. "Glasses, braces, skinny," says Chris. "I made first chair."

Conflict followed him even when he was a kid. One year his junior high school band had a major concert the same weekend his youth hockey team was to play in a big tournament. Chris's mother, Susan, lied to the band director, telling him that Chris could not perform because he was ill. The next week, however, Chris let it slip in school that he had competed in the hockey tournament. When word got back to the band director, he confronted Chris in front of the entire group and asked him about his priorities. Chris answered by walking out of the practice room. He didn't pick up a musical instrument again until he bought a saxophone last year.

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