Chris, his three sisters and his brother all helped out in their father's restaurants, which explains why Tracee had perfect eggs on her plate on a recent morning. "Chris is a neat freak like his dad," she said. But when it came time for hockey practice, Gus always let the pots and pans sit.
"Our Greek friends made fun of Gus, because he allowed his sons to waste time with sports," says Susan. "He said, 'You make all the money you want in your restaurants. I'm going to have fun with my boys.' "
In 1977, Gus visited an old Army acquaintance in San Diego, found a restaurant opportunity and sent for the family. Chris participated in San Diego's youth hockey program, but the competition was second-rate. Then 15, Chris joined a senior team made up of Marines who played one game a week, but he knew he was falling behind players his age in other areas of the U.S and Canada.
One of his old Chicago friends heard of an opening on a junior B team in Hawkesbury, Ont., 30 miles from Montreal. So early in his senior year of high school, Chris caught a bus across the continent. When he was cut after one game, he tried out for another team, in Chatham, Ont. When that club let him go, Chris wound up at the Detroit bus station, out of money and begging the ticket clerk to allow him to mail him the fare after he got home.
"Two brothers overheard me and loaned me the money," says Chelios. "They were two funny guys with their teeth all rotted out—I'll never forget what they looked like. I lay in the luggage rack listening to their story the whole way to Utah, where they got off. Their claim to fame was that they owned the farm where Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane crashed. I sent them the money later. Man, was I glad to get home."
U.S. International University in San Diego had started a hockey program in 1978. Chelios failed to make the team as a freshman walk-on in 1979 but eventually hooked on with a junior B team in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
In 1981 he was recruited by Wisconsin and drafted in the second round by the Canadiens. At Wisconsin he was selected as a Western Collegiate Hockey Association all-star in '82-83, scoring 26 points in 26 games. After that, Chelios played on the U.S. team in the 1984 Winter Olympics. That March he found himself in a Canadiens uniform, against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. "I was lined up across from James Patrick, whom I had played against at Moose Jaw, then when he was at the University of North Dakota, and then when he played for the Canadian Olympic Team. We were thinking the same thing, because we had these big grins on our faces. I was like a 10-year-old."
"My Chris is more quiet than me, but just as determined," says Gus. "I bought our first restaurant in San Diego because it was near the rink for Chris. Then a shopping center and more restaurants came, and we lost everything. It was pretty bad, but we are a close family, and we didn't give up. It took two years before we had the money to buy another one, but we supported Chris in his hockey, and he worked in gas stations and restaurants to bring in what he could. Nothing comes easy, but the kids learned what life is all about."
More recently, Chelios seems to have learned that it is also about accepting responsibility. "I'd like to have a reputation as a good person, the kind who is good to people and they're good back to you," he says. "Off the ice, that is."